iRobot has a new cleaning robot. Behold, it’s square!
The Bedford, Mass.-based company, which has sold millions of its disc-shaped Roomba vacuums, is expanding its family of cleaning automatons. The new robot is the Braava jet, a small, shiny white robotic mop designed to clean hard floors, especially in bathrooms and kitchens. And did we say it’s square?
But perhaps the biggest surprise about the Braava jet is not its shape; it’s the price: US $200. This is iRobot’s most affordable cleaning bot ever. Compare that with Roomba ($375 to $900, depending on the model), Scooba ($600), or the original Braava, a larger robot mop ($300).
To use the Braava jet, you just need to add water to a reservoir on top of the robot, attach a cleaning pad, and press the “CLEAN” button. The robot cleans by spraying water in front of itself and mopping the wet spot with the pad.
iRobot has always paid a lot of attention to simplicity and usability, and while robots like Roomba and Scooba are easy to operate, users still have to do some maintenance to keep them in good shape. I have to imagine that when iRobot does focus groups with customers, at least some of them complain of spending too much time “cleaning my cleaning robot.” With the Braava jet, the company decidedly aimed at making a robot that is as easy to use and maintain as possible.
For instance, although you can use three different types of cleaning pads (wet, damp, or dry), the robot automatically recognizes which one you just attached to it (it does that by detecting tiny square cuts patterned on the back of the pads). And when the cleaning is done, you don’t even have to touch the dirty pad—just press a button and it drops right into the trash. The robot uses a removable lithium-ion battery and comes with a wall charger, so there are no power cords to fuss with. And unlike the Scooba, the Braava jet doesn’t have a dirty water reservoir or removable parts that need to be cleaned by the user.
Braava jet cleaning pads sell for $8 (box of 10 pads).
Here’s a description of the three cleaning modes and a picture of the different pads [right]:
- Wet Mopping - Triple-pass cleaning for dirt and stains on well-sealed floors, such as hardwood, tile, and stone.
- Damp Sweeping - Double-pass cleaning for everyday dirt and dust on sealed wood floors, tile, and stone.
- Dry Sweeping - Single-pass cleaning for dirt, dust and pet hair on all hard floors, including hardwood, tile, and stone.
iRobot says the Braava jet may look quite simple, but the company has crammed a lot of smart engineering into it to make sure cleaning and navigation work effectively. The mopping head to which you attach the pad not only sweeps the floor but also vibrates to help loosen dirt and stains. When a conventional spray nozzle didn’t perform reliably in tests, iRobot used a design found in luxury cars. In damp mode, the robot sprays about half the amount of water as in wet mode.
This robot is not afraid of water.Photo: iRobot
To navigate, the little Braava doesn’t rely on the NorthStar external module used by the bigger Braava. And it doesn’t use a random driving pattern either, as most Roomba models do. Instead, it drives in straight lines and uses its bumper, wheel odometers, and gyro to progressively create a map of its surroundings (it can cover up to 200 ft2/18.5 m2 in damp/dry mode and 150 ft2/13.9 m2 in wet mode). To keep it from entering unwanted areas, instead of a separate “virtual wall” infrared module, you position the robot with its back facing the area where you don’t want it to go; the robot will set a “virtual wall” on its map and won’t cross it while navigating.
Like Roomba, the Braava jet has mastered the art of maneuvering around furniture, waste baskets, pet bowls, and other household objects.Photo: iRobot
With the new robot, which like the Roomba will be sold at Target and other popular retailers, iRobot is clearly targeting the masses of consumers that might be ready for their first cleaning robot, as well as loyal Roomba owners who would like to add more robotic cleaning to their homes.
“Braava jet complements our successful Roomba robotic vacuum by offering customers a separate option for daily hard floor mopping on particularly dirty and sometimes unsavory surfaces,” Christian Cerda, general manager of iRobot’s home robots unit, said in a statement.
To translate that last bit, wouldn’t you love to have a robot to clean around the toilet for you? I know I would.
We’ll have an in-depth review for you sometime soon describing how the Braava jet does in terms of cleaning different hard floors and how well its navigation and new approach to “virtual wall” work.
[ iRobot ]
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.