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Roomba Red

Roomba Red a Robot That Sucks

By Jim Bray

You’ve probably seen the commercials for iRobot's Roomba robot vacuum cleaners. They’re the cute little circular droids that look kind of like a big and colorful land mine and which claim to make vacuuming attractive.

Well, truth be told I don’t think anything can make vacuuming attractive, but a nifty little critter like the Roomba Red I got to try could be the ticket for some people. Not me, unfortunately, for reasons that are more related to my home and lifestyle than the actual capabilities of the Roomba Red.

You see, while the robot does seem to work as advertised, it’s really more suitable for reasonably large rooms that have plenty of empty space in them. My home is a four level split crammed with so much furniture and electronics, not to mention assorted junk and more audio/video cables than Marconi had, that it had the poor little Roomba running around in circles – though to give the little beastie credit it never gave up trying until its battery expired.

Roomba Red is a big red disk that sallies forth into your rooms all by itself (once you tell it to), its cybernetic brain single-mindedly seeking out crud. It heads in relatively straight lines then, once it encounters an obstacle, it backs up and heads off in another direction, sniffing for more dirt to assimilate as if it were a Borg.

In my home’s rooms, this meant it would trundle a couple of feet, hit an obstruction, trundle another couple of feet, hit an obstruction, trundle another couple of feet, ad nauseam. Conversely, it would pick up a loose thread from one of our many expensive rugs (expensive being a relative term and used currently by someone who’d never spend money on an expensive rug unless it flew) and whir to a stop with the thread tightening around the robot’s beater/roller.

Just like our big, built in vacuum, except that you don’t have to drag the Roomba around the house.

And it did pick up dirt well. Our place is plagued by cat hair and there was plenty of it picked up by the Roomba Red, far more than I expected it would get.

On the other hand, as interesting as the Roomba is to watch, by the time it came close to sucking up the dirt, dust and cat hair from our living room I could have vacuumed the whole house two or three times.

On the other other hand, using the Roomba means you don’t have to vacuum….

And that’s undoubtedly the whole point.

My three cats found the Roomba to be fascinating. In fact, the most enjoyable thing about the Roomba Red in my home was watching the cats react to it. They never attacked it, but they sure thought about attacking it!

But I digress…

The Roomba comes equipped with a rechargeable battery that, in the case of the apparently much used test unit I received, seems to take forever to recharge once you’ve mounted it properly in the unit’s underside. It also comes with a ‘virtual wall’ you can set up to keep the robot from straying into areas where you don’t want it to go. It seems to work like a little force field, by using an invisible beam to warn the Roomba away from it and it works well. I wish such a virtual wall would work on our dog.

Other features include “Spot mode” (which has nothing to do with the family dog), which causes the Roomba to concentrate on a particularly vile part of the room (up to three feet in diameter) and is activated by a button on the top of the unit. A side brush is designed to help clean close to walls and, within reason, the Roomba will transition from one type of floor surface to another (such as carpet to floor) without getting hung up.

The Roomba doesn’t have a big bag to hold dirt (where would it put it?), but its little bin is easy to empty.

As far as navigating your room is concerned, the robot does a pretty good job overall and is certainly interesting to watch. I’d have loved to see it under optimal conditions, in a larger room with less junk in it, because I have a feeling its “avoidance systems” would work quite well. As it was in my particular application, however, I am still the best tool for the job…

And that hurt.

And for the price of the Roomba Red ($149US), you can buy a decent used vacuum that will work in any home, though of course one has to consider the “gee whiz” factor that makes the Roomba such a nifty idea, and the fact that whatever other vacuum you get, you still have to push or drag it around, which you don’t have to do with the Roomba.

I have a feeling it’s the “gee whiz” factor that sells this product. And that’s fine. Just don’t expect this to be a robot such as you’d find in a sci fi novel or movie. It’s a small step in that direction, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough yet.

What I’d really like to see is a robot that can push around my built in vacuum, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms, wash the cars, and walk the dog.

That’ll probably take another couple of years.

Manufacturer's Website


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January 31, 2006