Tom Lohr is a futurist and hates cleaning. He is still waiting for his flying car.
Part of the excitement of greeting the start of the 21stcentury two decades ago was the promise of technology that would make our lives easier. While I am still waiting on my flying car, we have come a long way. Although I would not exactly call them an improvement in our lives, smartphones are a clear example of how far we have come in a short period of time.
Tech talk these days is centered around artificial intelligence and robots. Depending on who you talk to, robots will either be a godsend that can do everything from washing our cars to being our companions, or they will band together to kill us all. There are even some clueless dolts out there that want robots to have human rights once they become human-like. I will be all for that as soon as we grant the same privileges to Cadillacs.
A Gadget With a Purpose
If you take the simple meaning of a robot as a machine that performs work, they have been around for decades. A washing machine cleans our laundry, dishwashers scrubs our dinnerware and vacuums suck the dirt out of the carpet. What they lack is artificial intelligence. All of those machines require some human interaction to make them useful.
A company called iRobot set out to change how robots work for us, giving machines more autonomy and less reliance on humans to complete their task. Their most known invention is the Roomba vacuum cleaner. This thick, disc-shaped gem will wander around your room in a haphazard pattern, sucking up dirt, dust, and small debris as it goes. It has a computer program that ensures the tiny workhorse doesn't miss an inch, and its low profile allows it to clean under most sofas and chairs.
Is It Helpful or Is It All Hype?
All you have to do is press a button and off it goes, cleaning up the nastiness that lives on your floor. When it's finished, it even finds its way back to its charging station so that it is juiced and ready to go for another round. The more advanced models can be programmed to perform its duties while you are at work, ensuring that you return home with freshly vacuumed floors.
But just how efficient are these little household helpers? How good of a job do they really do? To find out, I ran an experiment to gauge the efficiency of my Roomba. I wanted to see if it left my rooms clean or something to be desired. My plan was to run the Roomba in my bedroom, weigh the debris it collected on the first run, then run it again and weigh the debris from the second round to see how much it missed the first time.
Testing the Technology
To be fair, the best vacuum cleaners you can buy are not 100% efficient. Just look at the water from you next carpet cleaning as it is dumped out. It will be black with dirt that your vacuum never removed no matter how often you use it.
Here are some facts regarding the experiment to help you visualize the Roomba's task. I have a standard sized bedroom with no carpet (I hate carpet). I removed it and painted the concrete slab. This should actually make the Roomba's task easier. I also have two dogs and two cats, who all shed. My Roomba, who I call Hazel, gets a workout at my place. After completing two complete cycles in my bedroom with the Roomba, here are the results.
What It Picked Up on the First Test Run
Hazel gathered her normal bin full of hair and dust. She is usually pretty full after running in any room of my house, and this time was no exception. I used a baking scale (which I cleaned afterwards) to measure the weight of the debris the Roomba picked up and took a photo of it for visual reference. As you can see in the picture, the vaunted vacuum sucked in a total of 3 grams of hair, dust and dirt. Three grams and a large volume of debris is a respectable run. But how much did she miss?
Results of the Second Test Run
Fully charged, Hazel embarked on another complete sweep of my bedroom. Total time between runs was about 30 minutes. After emptying the gathered debris on the scale, it displayed 0 grams. This despite there being a decent amount of stuff picked up on the second run. Clearly, the heaviest debris, likely the larger pieces of dirt, were dutifully removed by Hazel.
But if you compare the photos between runs, the Roomba definitely did not get all of the crap on my floor, particularly the pet hair. Was it a significant amount? Take a look at the photos of the first and second cycles and you be the judge.
Is It Worth the Cost?
So, does the Roomba really clean your house? Yes—better than most vacuums. Not only does it probably gather the same amount of debris as conventional standup and push vacuums, the fact that it can get under the bed and couch makes it a marked improvement over my previous models. If you are thinking about getting a Roomba, I recommend making the purchase. While it won't wash your car, it will take some of the bore out of your household chores, and it won't conspire with the blender to kill you.
Tom Lohr (author) from Magdalena, NM on March 14, 2019:
Unfortunately, a Roomba cannot clean the stairs. I am not sure if it would detect the drop off to prevent it from falling either. You can buy these infrared beam gizmos that will prevent it from entering other rooms, etc. it might work with the top of the stairs. I only have one floor so I could not check it out. As for entering other rooms, I just close the other doors, or block the entrance with a chair.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 14, 2019:
This is a great review. I was thinking of investing in a cordless, rechargeable vacuum cleaner next time there's a good offer. Having read your review I might think about skipping a stage and going straight for a robot vacuum. One question: What about the stairs?