Monday, May 12, 2008

Boy, this thing really sucks!

We decided a while ago that we should get a Roomba. Despite considerable amounts of time invested to prove the contrary, it turns out that our floors really don't clean themselves. So this is the next best thing.

After comparing different models on iRobot's web site, I decided that something in the 500-series would be best for us. We picked up a 560 from Sears a couple weeks ago. Found a nice corner to set up home base, and let it start charging.

I know I should have run the big sweeper first, but I wanted to see what it was capable of. Keep in mind that the wife has long hair, for a number of years we had 4 cats here (2 now), and our frequency of vacuuming is, um, low. Turns out it was capable of about 15 minutes of sweeping before it started begging for mercy. However, it is fascinating to watch it run.

First of all, before it backs out of the charging base, it beeps. You know, sort of like a garbage truck reversing. Hilarious. Then it turns and takes off, sweeping as it goes. If it encounters what it considers to be a particularly dirty spot, it will spin around in circles a bit, then resume a different heading. I imagine what it must be thinking: "vrooooommmm.... OMG!OMG!OMG!... vrooooommm.... OMG!OMG!OMG!..." I'm actually pretty glad that, aside from the pre-recorded warning messages, it doesn't really talk. I can't imagine it would have nice things to say.

As I watched it weave its way through the dining room chairs, it occurred to me just how much thought went into it. I've been thinking that if I was to sit down and design a robotic vacuum, the Roomba is not what I would have designed. But as you watch, it all starts to make sense. Of course it is round. That way it can't get trapped. If it can get in, it can get out.

We finally ran the Rainbow around to do some heavy lifting, then turned the Roomba loose again. Surprisingly, the Roomba still found enough fur and hair to get the brushes stuck again. I figured it would be smooth sailing after the Rainbow, but no. The amount of carpet fuzz, hair, and fur that it continues to find every time we run it is, frankly, shocking.

But, this means that the Roomba rarely returns home on its own, having successfully cleaned the house. More often than not, we have to figure out where it gave up. It has a disturbing ability to park itself under the middle of the bed. "Please remove and clean Roomba's brushes." Yeah, yeah. So this has become a common sight:

That rubber "brush" is a monster at digging up stuff. Unfortunately, it mostly gets chased to the side, where it forms its own hairballs. So we spend a couple minutes cleaning up the brushes, then send it on its way.

We've run it at least once a day for the last couple of weeks. I think it has returned home believing it is done a total of three times. So there is some room for improvement. That's said, our carpet is looking noticeably improved; it's starting to look like we actually care. And it's doing an awesome job of picking up grit and stuff off the linoleum floor in the kitchen. And, since we want to maximize the area it can get to, we've done a good job of keeping random crap picked up off the floor. So the house in general is looking cleaner than it has in a long time. Considering it cost about 1/4 of the Rainbow, and does most of the work for us, I'd say it's a good deal.

My main complaint is that it starts the same pattern each time from home base. I'd like to see that be randomized. And I'd like to see the brushes be a little easier to clean. No complaints about payload capacity so far; we don't really have enough dirt dirt to worry about. Battery life seems more than sufficient.

Now if iRobot could just invent the Roomba Stairmaster, and the Roomba Duster, I'd be all set.

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