The Roomba’s Achilles heel has always been the horrible mess it gets itself into with hair. Your hair, my hair, cat hair, dog hair, long hair, short hair: if you go check right now, all of these and more will be wrapped around your Roomba’s bristle brush. Seven generations (or more?) of Roombas have had this problem, but with the newly redesigned Roomba 800 series, iRobot is finally untangling this mess.
We’ve gotten used to seeing only very incremental upgrades from iRobot. In the past, we've dinged them for releasing “new” Roombas that didn’t incorporate any substantially new technology, but were rather different colors with different accessories and maybe a slightly different battery or something. I suppose we really shouldn't complain: this release path may be what it takes for a consumer robotics company to actually, you know, make money. Still, we’re constantly hoping for Roombas that incorporate new capabilities that will make them better at their jobs, and today, iRobot has come through.
The Roomba 800 Series (the 880 is pictured above) has a new external design with some brushed metal that looks pretty nice, but it’s also got a completely redesigned cleaning system that increases vacuuming power while doing away with the bristle brush completely.
Here’s the breakdown of the new stuff directly from iRobot:
- Brushless, counter-rotating AeroForce Extractors break down debris and lift dirt, while requiring less maintenance.
- Suction Amplification, which results from the acceleration of airflow between the AeroForce Extractors.
- A brushless High-Efficiency Vacuum to maximize vacuum power and the new XLife Battery for optimized robotic cleaning effectiveness.
- Removes up to 50% more dirt, dust, hair and debris.
- Uses a 5x more powerful vacuum than previous Roomba models.
- Holds 60% more dirt in the high capacity bin.
- Is virtually maintenance free – AeroForce Extractors eliminate tangled hair.
- Delivers double the cleaning cycles over the life of the robot with the XLife Battery
So what’s all this hullabaloo about “AeroForce Extractors,” then? Well, you remember what the underbelly of a 700 series Roomba looks like, right?
Yes. Gross. That bristle brush grabs a lot of hair (human hair, pet hair, doesn't matter), and doesn't let go of it, so the vast majority ends up atomically bonded to the brush itself instead of inside the dust bin. It’s not like iRobot was unaware of this issue, and they've been hard at work in their volcano lair (or maybe in an office building in a Boston suburb) to come up with something better:
Those are the “AeroForce Extractors,” which is what iRobot has chosen to call that pair of bristle-less, rubber brushy things. They sweep and comb your carpets just like the bristle brushes on the older Roombas do, and since the extractors can be squeezed closer together, air being pulled in between them by the vacuum is accelerated more, effectively increasing the robot's suction power. At the same time, the overall size of the cleaning head has been shrunk, making more room for the dust bin, which translates into you having to empty it less frequently.
So that all sounds great on paper, but the big question is whether the 800 Series really is better at dealing with hair than earlier Roombas. To try to figure this out in the space of about half an hour (don't worry, we'll have a more in-depth review later), I came up with an unscientific test, and here he is:
This is my cat. His name is Vinnie. He's really, really stupid, and really, really fluffy. And he hates robots almost as much as robots hate dealing with the amount of hair that he sheds. To speed things along a little bit, I brushed him directly on a piece of carpet, and then added some dirt for good measure:
Now, GO ROOMBA 880, GO!
Not bad. There are still a few spots where the hair has stuck into the carpet a bit, but for such a brutal test, I'd say that the robot did quite well. Now, what about those AeroForce Extractors?
Impressive. There's still a little bit of hair that got in around the bearings, but a lot less than we'd have seen on an earlier series Roomba. It really does look like most of the hair went straight into the dust bin, which is exactly what we want.
So overall, in this one brief test, the Roomba 800 Series does appear to perform substantially better than any other Roomba we've used, although it's not absolutely perfect: hair does still get into the cleaning system, and it's not flawless at getting all hair out of carpet.
Back when we pitted a Roomba 560 against a Neato XV-11 (which, like the Roomba 800 Series, does not use a bristle brush) we noticed something similar with hair in carpet:
“On carpet, both the XV-11 and the Roomba did fairly well, although not as good as an upright. The Roomba cleaned slightly better in general, and significantly better when it came to pet hair, probably because of its bristle brush. The rubber brush on the XV-11 tended to leave streaks of pet hair behind it. Neither robot got pet hair completely cleaned up.
The XV-11 is much better at keeping itself clean as it cleans, especially when it comes to hair (pet and otherwise). I have a couple cats, and while the Roomba was significantly better at picking up cat hair, it also got a lot of cat hair wrapped around its bristle brushes, as well around the bearings holding the brushes in place. After just a few vacuumings, you’ll need to take the brushes and bearings out and clean them by hand.”
With the Roomba 880, at first glance, we’re seeing this same sort of thing. In our experience (which is admittedly brief with the 800 Series since we just got it), a bristle brush does manage to get more pet hair out of carpet, but you pay for that by having to constantly take the robot apart to clean it (yes, you the human cleaning the cleaning robot). We tend to prefer the way that the 800 Series cleans, because while it’s maybe not quite as good at picking up hair as we’d like, the amount of time that you’ll spend dealing with this robot that’s supposed to be generally autonomous is drastically reduced. And part of the point of a Roomba is that it can clean way, way more often than you can, which helps to mitigate the fact that it doesn't do as good of a job as you do with your regular vacuum.
Next, we plan to run the 880 against an earlier generation Roomba and see how they compare, but if you’re already convinced that the 800 Series is worth the upgrade, the Roomba 880 is available right now at iRobot’s website for $700.
[ iRobot ]
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Antarctica (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan's work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR's Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.