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Robot Vacuum Cleaners Demystified - What Can a Vacuum Cleaning Robot Do For You?
Posted by - NA - on 17 Nov 2008 01:06 PM
Never heard of them? Listen up, you might find this very interesting !

What is a Robot Vacuum Cleaner?

Yes ! It does exactly what you are thinking, it vacuums. Unlike your conventional vacuum cleaner, however, this one is slightly different... well it's smart. We are not referring to artificial intelligence or anything like that. It simply does what you ask it to do, when you want it done without having to interfere or drag it around.

A robot vacuum cleaner will vacuum your hard and carpet floors and retain the dirt in a catcher that can be emptied now and then. When it has finished, the robot vacuum cleaner settles on its docking station or speaks to inform you that it is done cleaning. Not bad huh!

Following are a few examples of Robot Vacuum Cleaners:

Roomba by iRobot
Neato XV-11 and XV-21 by Neato Robotics
Cleanmate by Infinuvo

What does it look like?

Size matters

Most robot vacuum cleaners like the IRobot Roomba and the Infinuvo CleanMate are round shaped and stand at 3 to 4 inches high and roughly 12 inches in diameter...

The Neato Robotics XV-11and XV-21 have a square front to be able to clean deep into corners without needing any side brushes.

The shell...

On the top part of the unit you will find the control panel. Some have one or two buttons, others many and others even have an LCD monitor. How about that !

On the front end of the unit is attached a half moon shaped spring-loaded or light touch bumper depending on the brand and model. The bumper serves as a sensor for obstacles (walls, furniture, etc.).

The belly of the beast...

The robot vacuum sits on 2 or 3 wheels and is rigged with one or many brushes, depending on the model. You will also notice a variety of sci-fi looking sensors that provide your little friend some intelligence. These sensors are used to detect stairs or other obstacles.

How does a Robot vacuum cleaner work?

Initially the robot sits quietly on its docking station, which most of them have. Keep in mind to settle the robot and the docking station in a open area. Avoid closets or other cramped spaces as they make it very difficult for your robot vacuum cleaner to navigate away and back to the station.

The docking station has one main function, to charge the batteries in between cleaning cycles. How does the robot find its way back to the station you might ask? Good question.

The station casts a light beam to a distance of about 6 feet in a "V" shape which serves as a beacon. During the cleaning cycle, if the robotic vacuum senses the light beam, it steers clear of the docking station. Once the cycle is complete or the battery runs down, the robot uses the light beam to happily head home to its docking station. Robot owners without a docking station may manually connect the vacuum to an outlet for charging using the power supply unit provided with the robot.

On the scheduled days and time, the Robot vacuum Cleaner powers out of the station for work. It will not return until the cleaning cycle is complete or its battery runs low. In the event of a battery run-down prior to completing the cleaning cycle, the robot will abort the cleaning cycle and find its way back to station. The schedule is embedded in the robots program memory. A simple button sequence allows you to set your preferred schedule.

Finding its way around: Navigation

No need to sit around while your robot vacuum performs a cleaning cycle. The robot navigates using an integrated technology providing them with 4 to 5 cleaning modes. For example the robot vacuum cleaner can use a circle or spiral shape pattern to cover the area. Other modes include following the walls to the center of the room, zigzagging, criss-crossing in diagonals, and more. Other more advanced robotic vacuums clean systematically the entire room in straight lines. It is all part of your robots intelligence!

Vacuum and no-vacuum zones you ask? The Roomba Robotic Vacuum gets a little help from virtual walls and/or lighthouses. Virtual walls are included with some models and can be sold separately. This unit sends out an infrared light beam that serves as a gate or virtual wall. When the Robot Vacuum senses the light signal, the unit changes direction to avoid the zone.

Lighthouses also feature the infrared light beam like the virtual wall, but is are also equipped with a radio-frequency technology designed to help your robot vacuum cleaner to self position and improve cleaning efficiency. Basically, lighthouses are beacon-like units that allow the robot to self position and navigate its way back to the docking station, just like ships on the ocean use lighthouses to avoid rocky collisions with the coast and get safely back to port. But, robot vacuums have a great advantage over ships, they can't sink! Unless of course you have a swimming pool in the middle of your living room!

The Neato comes with boundary markers. These are black magnetic strips that the robot will not cross. You may place these in doorways or areas that you do not want the robot to cross into in order to go clean.

Infinuvo CleanMate Robot Vacuums simply rely on their navigation abilities as virtual walls, lighthouses and boundary markers are note available.

What are its limitations?

Lets get started with what a robot vacuum will definitely not do for you. For example, robot vacuum cleaners will not act as a moderator or get involved in home or office disputes, although they can help by taking away the hassle of vacuum cleaning! They might improve your social life in many ways. Imagine impressing your guests with your robot vacuum by scheduling a cleaning cycle while you share appetizers and drinks.

Here are some important limitations:
Those nifty robots do not operate well beyond a 30 to 35 degree slope, but you hopefully have level floors.
They are not capable of vacuuming stairways.
Robot vacuum cleaner light sensors will not work on dark black surfaces as the light can reflect.

Keep in mind that robot vacuum cleaners are designed to vacuum floors and carpets. They are not engineered for washing floors. A floor washing robot called Scooba and an Automatic floor Cleaner called the Mint has already been designed for that purpose.

You will find robot vacuums do an excellent job at taking away the dirt, but keep in mind they don't benefit from a peripheral vision like you and I do. Therefore, you might find missed particles on rare occasions... but don't ground your loyal robot, it's really doing its best!

Where can I purchase a Robot vacuum cleaner?

Here ! Of course !

Well, the reason we have so much to say about Robotic Vacuums is our five happy years experience with these neat machines. We carry many models from the most basic to the souped-up, fully-loaded.

How about maintenance? So glad you asked! We run a robot vacuum cleaner specialty shop to perform maintenance, diagnostics, and repairs on these cool little machines. With all this expertise under our belts, we have decided to go one step further by offering you a five year limited lifetime warranty on Roomba robot vacuum cleaners.

We call ourselves RobotShop, the World's Leading Source for Domestic and Professional Robot Technology. Look us up on the web at If you are already aware of them and perhaps own one, but would like to know more, look up the following articles brought to you by the same author:

  • Choosing the Right Robot Vacuum Cleaner for Your Needs
  • Roomba and Infinuvo CleanMate Robot Vacuum Cleaner Setup for Optimal Performance
  • Roomba and Infinuvo CleanMate Robot Vacuum Cleaners Recommended Maintenance Schedule
  • Robot vacuum cleaner basic troubleshooting from home before sending your fellow to the Shop
  • Roomba mania


by Ian Reid in collaboration with Julie Gendron, Domestic Robot Specialist and Technician

Robot Vacuum Cleaners Demystified is a series of 5 articles about Roomba and Infinuvo CleanMate robot vacuum cleaners.

Visit for more information on RobotShop products and services.

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