iRobot Scooba 450 Is the Most Effective Way Yet to Avoid Cleaning Your Floors

A new cleaning system keeps the Scooba competitive with you scrubbing your floors on hands and knees

2 min read
iRobot Scooba 450 Is the Most Effective Way Yet to Avoid Cleaning Your Floors

At CES last week, iRobot introduced a redesigned version of the Scooba floor-cleaning robot. It’s got new hardware inside, but what really makes it better at cleaning is a strategy adopted from its little brother, the Scooba 230.

There are two ways to make a robot better at doing what you want it to do: improving hardware, and improving software. Ideally, you want to do both at once, which is what iRobot did with their new Scooba 450. Along with redesigned guts, it has some new software that includes a vacuum cycle, a soak cycle (iRobot calls those previous two one cycle), a scrub cycle, and a rinse cycle, to do a better job cleaning than you might even do yourself.

If these behaviors sound familiar, it’s because we've already seen them in the adorable little Scooba 230, which has been soaking, washing, and squeegeeing dry bathrooms since 2011. Until the Scooba 450, the earlier full-size Scoobas had been trying to do everything in one single pass, which sounds more efficient, but wasn't nearly as good at getting up sticky messy bits that might have been sitting on the floor for a while.

Even though the Scooba 450 looks like it does a significantly better job at floor cleaning (iRobot says "3x better" in whatever metric they're using), the thing that you have to keep in mind about the Scooba (and indeed all cleaning robots, from iRobot or anybody else) is that they're maintenance tools. These robots simply will not replace a serious floor scrubbing with a mop, because you've got way more muscle than they do. What they will do is significantly extend the time between required cleanings by a human, and if you run them often enough, you may find that you barely ever need to clean your floors yourself. But that's how you have to do it: take advantage of the fact that they're robots, and set them to run all the time while you're away. If you just try to run a Scooba as often as you yourself would mop, it's likely that you won't be satisfied with the results.

The biggest problem that we see with the Scooba is the same problem that the Roombas have: user interaction is still required, and in Scooba's case, it's a significant amount of user interaction, since you have to change the water every single time. It's not like iRobot is unaware of this problem, but it's a tough one to solve. It's possible that the introduction of a beefy dock designed to get the Scooba up off of the floor and on to your counter could be a precursor to a system that (say) can be attached to your sink, letting the robot fill and empty itself, at least while it's up on the dock.

Or maybe we're just wishfully making that all up. But we can dream, can't we?

The iRobot Scooba 450 is available right now on iRobot's website for a rather lofty $600, with the (optional) charging dock setting you back another $80.

[ iRobot Scooba 450 ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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