Roomba Red a Robot That Sucks
By Jim Bray
Youve probably seen the commercials for iRobot's Roomba
robot vacuum cleaners. Theyre the cute little circular droids that
look kind of like a big and colorful land mine and which claim to make
Well, truth be told I dont 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
You see, while the robot does seem to work as advertised, its 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
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 homes 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 whod never spend money on an expensive
rug unless it flew) and whir to a stop with the thread tightening around
the robots beater/roller.
Just like our big, built in vacuum, except that you dont 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 dont have to
And thats 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 youve mounted it properly in the units underside.
It also comes with a virtual wall you can set up to keep the
robot from straying into areas where you dont 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
The Roomba doesnt 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. Id 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 dont have to do with the Roomba.
I have a feeling its the gee whiz factor that sells
this product. And thats fine. Just dont expect this to be a
robot such as youd find in a sci fi novel or movie. Its a small
step in that direction, but it doesnt go nearly far enough yet.
What Id 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
Thatll probably take another couple of years.