Price (RRP): $1499
Anything that promises to take the work out of vacuuming has got to be a good thing, right? Right! Not even having to push the vacuum cleaner around is certainly taking out the work. That is, of course, what the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner famously offers. But the model 980 is smarter and easier than ever, thanks to network control.
So the iRobot Roomba 980, as we all know, is a self-driving, self-guiding vacuum cleaner. It’s shaped like an oversized hockey puck, the better to glide around under furniture. Looked at from the top, it’s a 345mm diameter circle, standing about 85mm tall on the floor.
Underneath are two largish tractor wheels, powered, and spring loaded so that they can extend up to around 30mm downwards to help climb over small obstacles. They are widely spaced near the circumference. The centre of mass is towards the front, well ahead of them. Right at the front is a freely swinging ball wheel.
The cleaner draws air up from the floor between a couple of soft, ribbed rollers. These are powered and do not appear to quite contact the floor, although they might the reach the top of a deep carpet pile. Their job seems to be to make sure that the material that’s picked up is forcefully conveyed to the removable bin at the rear.
About 45 degrees to the right of straight ahead is a three armed spinning doohickey (iRobot calls it a “side brush”) with long bristles that reach out past the right side of the body in order to sweep debris back under the main body so it can be drawn in by the vacuum.
The front half of the body has a spring-loaded bumper around it. It is in part by means of this that the Roomba detects its environment and knows it must change direction to navigate around an obstacle. The unit can also detect when it has reached a downwards stair and draw back before going over the edge.
On the top is a large “Clean” button by which you fire up the unit and pause it. There are two other buttons: “Home” which tells the unit to go dock itself, and “Spot” which makes the unit do a spiral around the current place with the vacuum power up high, covering a circle around a metre in diameter. Importantly, there’s also a camera on top that looks about 45 degrees upwards. This is the other means by which the Roomba 980 detects its environment, spotting landmarks which it can memorise and then use for future navigation.
The Roomba can also detect any particularly grubby areas that it might encounter, and back up and redo them at higher power (this is called “Dirt Detect”).
It operates at higher intensity on carpet than on hard floors (and this is called “Carpet Boost”).
As the last phase of cleaning any area the unit is programmed to run around all the boundaries with its right side so that the doohickey (sorry, “side brush”) can sweep clean the edges.
Now all this is cool, but the thing also has WiFi built in (2.4GHz only, a little fact it didn’t tell me until after it failed to connect to the 5GHz access point I’d specified). There’s a free app for iOS and Android for controlling the unit and, perhaps more importantly, setting up vacuuming schedules (up to seven a week)
There’s really not much to using the unit. You plug in the docking station (place it against a wall or solid object or the Roomba will knock it askew and fail to dock properly). Put the Roomba in place atop it and press the “Clean” button once to kind of wake it up. Press “Clean” again, and off it goes.
With a full charge, it is supposed to run for a couple of hours on a hard floor. It did a good ninety minutes for me on mixed carpet and wood. This model is also designed to do multiple rooms, finding its way through doorways.