Roomba The Robot Sweeps Up

Colin Angle | iRobot

By Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot


If the Jetsons existed in this universe, and not in the cartooniverse, Rosie the Robot might be just about ready to look for a new job. In September of 2002 iRobot introduced Roomba, the intelligent robotic sweepervac that is ushering home robotics into the new millennium. Roomba™ makes it fun and easy to maintain cleaner floors. With the push of a button it automatically sweeps and vacuums just about any room in the house.

As the CEO of one of the nation's leading robotics companies, I would expect to be asked questions like, "When will you make a robot like Robbie the Robot?" or, "Are you making the robot from Terminator?" Instead, over the last 12 years I have most frequently been asked, "When will you make a robot that can do my housework?" At iRobot we listened to this question and decided to create an affordable robot that could clean a variety of home floor surfaces with minimal user inconvenience.

We began by learning as much as we could about the physics of cleaning. We had to learn about vacuum dynamics, sweeping, and algorithms to cover the majority of a given surface in a minimal amount of time, intelligent navigation and more. We needed to learn what consumers wanted in a vacuum. Did they want something that would save them time? What kind of surfaces are the most common in homes today?

The development team then got started. As with any new high-tech tool we had to try lots of different things and answer lots of new questions. We had to build a very small but powerful vacuum. We had to determine what kinds of batteries could power it through several rooms. We had to understand how to transition from hard floors to carpets and back without user intervention. We had to invent a method of wall following that would never harm the walls. We had to ensure it was smart enough to never fall down steps. We had to make it quiet enough that it wouldn't interfere with daily activities. And we had to do all of this within the goal of creating an affordable home appliance.

Roomba's size and shape were determined by the need to maneuver around and under furniture in American homes. We invented new sweeping techniques to ensure maximum cleaning power. We used sensor technology to ensure Roomba would stop at stairs and even invented a virtual wall so consumers could section off specific parts of their home for cleaning. We integrated it all into a sleek package, designed to complement most home décor, making it light and small enough to store easily.

Roomba was the end result -- a new, innovative, hands-free vacuum that automatically cleans household floors - including hardwood, linoleum, carpet and tile - giving the consumer more time to do other things with their life. It promotes healthy living by thoroughly cleaning hard-to-reach places without the consumer even needing to be in the same room. Roomba heralds a new way of living with home robotics -- it brings breakthrough robotics technology into the home at an affordable price of $199.95.

Unlike Rosies the Robot, Roomba is very simple to use. Its feelings never get hurt and it will never cry oily tears over a clean floor. All you have to do is place Roomba in the center of the room you want to clean, push a well-labeled room size button and it begins to work. Roomba first moves in a widening spiral pattern. Its proprietary vacuum and cleaning head automatically cleans whatever kind of floor surface it is on. After spiraling for a bit it moves in a straight line until it finds a wall or other object, which it then follows. It will then begin to criss-cross the room. Roomba repeats this pattern for a set length of time, based on the room size selected. This cleaning pattern allows Roomba to thoroughly clean most of the floor surface of a room. Its wall following sensors and cliff detectors insure that Roomba will not scuff any walls or furniture, nor will it drive itself off of stairs. It even comes with a Virtual Wall Unit that allows the consumer to block off sections of a room or a large opening. Roomba detects the invisible beam of light and treats it like a solid wall.

Roomba is easy to maintain, requiring only that its debris filter be emptied after each use and that the brushes be periodically cleaned, no more maintenance than an ordinary upright vacuum. It is ideal for anyone who doesn't want to have to push around an upright regularly, or for those who may have physical limitations that make regular vacuuming difficult. It's great for pet owners, too. Roomba is designed for regular use between occasional deep cleaning. Roomba easily plugs in to charge up its batteries, and holds enough power to clean two-to-three average sized rooms between recharges.

Roomba makes home robots a thing of the present, not the distant future. It simplifies people's lives by giving them back time. Rosie the Robot may lurk in our distant future, but for now, I'm just going to sit back, let Roomba clean my floors, and enjoy the present.


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