It’s no secret that one of the most annoying things about Roombas and other robot vacuums is that despite all of their autonomy, you still have to empty out their dust bins, which is not only messy but also breaks you out of that “effortless clean” fantastical dream that these robots promise. With that in mind, it’s not at all surprising that we’ve been hearing rumors about self-emptying Roombas for like a decade—for example, there’s this 2007 iRobot patent that I wrote about years and years ago. We’ve been wondering about this for so long that we’d stopped asking iRobot about it, stopped thinking about it ourselves, and just kind of figured it would never happen. Good gravy, were we dead wrong about that!
Today, iRobot is announcing a new charging dock for the equally new Roomba i7+ that incorporates its own dustbin plus a vacuuming system that can automatically transfer the contents of the Roomba’s bin directly into the dock while recharging the robot at the same time. This means that your i7+ can operate totally autonomously for weeks or even months—you can stop thinking about it completely and just enjoy cleaner floors.
The iRobot Roomba i7+ robot vacuum takes convenience to a whole new level with the first-of-its-kind Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal, which automatically empties the contents of the Roomba i7+ dust bin into the Clean Base. Doubling as the robot’s charging station, the Clean Base takes the dirty work out of vacuuming, storing debris in an enclosed bag, and trapping dirt and dust so it can’t escape into the air. When the bag is full, the user is notified via the iRobot HOME App. Then they simply pull it out of the Clean Base and replace with a new one. The bag can hold 30 bins of debris, so users don’t have to think about vacuuming for weeks at a time.
Before we get too impressed, it’s worth noting that iRobot is not the first robotics company to try and do this—we saw a couple different versions of vacuum docks at CES 2012, for example. iRobot acknowledges that this is not an incredibly novel idea, but the real trick, the company told us, was getting the design right and making sure that it’s not just another thing that ends up creating more of a hassle or mess than it’s ultimately worth. For example, the bag that the dirt ends up in has a clever little cardboard mechanism that seals it when you lift it out of the container, so dirt won’t fly out of the bin back onto your floors (the downside is you’ll have to buy more of these directly from iRobot for US $5 each, which seems a little on the steep side).
The Clean Base bag can hold 30 bins of debris, and has a tab to seal its opening when you lift it out of the container.Photo: iRobot
One thing to consider too is that robot vacuums in general do need more maintenance than just dirt-bin emptying. You’ll need to clean out brushes and bearings and replace filters, for example, to keep your robot friend happy and healthy. How often you need to do this depends on your house and what’s in it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s much more frequently than the 30 full bins worth of vacuuming cycles that the dock can swallow up. And it could be fewer cycles if you have a giant house, because the i7+ can return to the dock to offload a full bin mid-cycle if it needs to. Either way, when the dock does fill up, it’ll send a notification to the app to let you know it’s time to take care of it.
Even if this dock won’t make your i7+ completely worry-free, it does mean that most of the time, you can ignore it completely. Set it to clean areas that get consistently dirty every few days or whatever, at times where you’re not home. And then just forget about it and your floors will simply stay cleaner. It’s not quite the holy grail of floor cleaning robots, not yet, but it’s a lot closer than it was yesterday.
The Roomba i7+ robot vacuum with Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal is up for presale as we speak for $949, and it’ll ship next week. The base by itself is $300, but at the moment it only works with the i7+, so you might as well save yourself $50 and buy them both at once.
[ iRobot ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.