iRobot meeting

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iRobot Roomba 780

Our other subject at iRobot was covering the not so new floor cleaning robots. iRobot did not announce any new robots at CES this year. Product life cycle in robotics is considerably longer than in other, more popular segments of consumer electronics. The Roomba 700 is relatively new in most markets, and there was no reason yet to change anything.

My biggest complaint about the Roomba 700 series was the high maintenance requirement. Compared to previous models I found that hair accumulates on the main brush more quickly. With a closer examination of the new dust bin design it becomes obvious that most probably the removal of the comb like teeth is causing the problem. On the original Vacuum Bin these teeth have pulled off the hair from the brush, while this job is now given to a straight edge on the bin. I was told that according to their findings the hair accumulating on the teeth has often clogged the opening of the bin, seriously lowering the cleaning intensity. In the new design the edge and the better suction power (distributed on the two sides of the bin) are doing a better job. Honestly, after my experience, it wasn't a convincing answer.

Gerry Caron, director of product management has highlighted another change in the design that prevents the hair to enter the gearbox. The new end design of the bristle and beater bars help hair to build up there preventing more hair to go any further into the bearings and eventually into the gearbox. This improvement seems to work well, since no hair was found between the gears after several weeks of intensive testing.

I have also asked Mr. Caron why isn't iRobot adding another side brush to help the robot collect the dust from both sides. Based on their experiments, the side brushes are not effective enough to widen the cleaning path of the robot to justify the extra complexity and higher cost that this addition would require. Effective cleaning is only done in the path of the bristle bar and since Roombas pass the same area several times during cleaning the side brushes don't add too much benefit to the product. The main job of the side brush is to clean the floor along walls and furniture and since these robots follow walls with only one side, one side brush is sufficient.

As for systematic floor coverage, Mr. Caron has shared that iRobot has tried various types of mapping technologies in the past, but they didn't find them effective enough to replace iAdapt. Most of the methodically cleaning robots take one pass, and concentrate on finishing the job as quickly as possible. But iAdapt, that is designed to go over and over the same spot from different directions multiple times, makes a better job. Mapping robots often slightly misplace themselves from the desired path, leaving narrow, uncleaned stripes on the floor. These robots often focus on speed instead of thorough cleaning. "Navigation is a cool thing. We may do it some day, but we will do it for a reason, because it will make the room cleaner, not because of the technology." - Caron said. Mapping robots often not go into tight spaces, while the Roomba will get into every small corner, and will get out from there.

"We have the vision of an autonomous home, where instead of you taking care of the home the home takes care of you. And that could be either clean the floors, pool or gutter, or even helping you taking care of the elderly." - Caron said.

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