The Kaptain on … stuff

21 Mar, 2010

30 Days with a Roomba

Posted by: TheKaptain In: Cool Toys

Recently I got suckered into buying a Roomba at a local store. It was the very basest model on special at $96CD and I gave in to the indulgence to see how it might fare in my home.

Fair Disclosure

We live with 3 pets. Two dogs and one cat. The dogs are black and tan. The cat is gray and white. The end result is that we have hair of every pretty much every possible color just about everywhere, all the time. If you too are a multi-pet owner you may know of the fur dust-devils that can take over your kitchen floor, the inevitable dirt by the door where the dogs come in or the “track proof” kitty litter that inevitably gets tracked. Over time, in order to properly clean up after the pets we’ve invested in a very good vacuum cleaner and a steam cleaner to go with it. Not to mention a weekly two hour visit from a professional cleaner. The Roomba has taken a lot of the work out of it, and that’s a good thing because if there’s one thing I hate it’s doing dishes by hand. Followed closely by vacuuming.

First Impressions

After fully charging the unit, we set it loose on the main traffic areas of our house – the living room and the kitchen. The first time we ran it the area was left pretty much ‘as is’ and the Roomba needed help a couple of times when it got caught up around chairs, table legs and an edge of a couch. The dirt trap was also stuffed to the max with pet hair after an hour. I blame the fact that the couch it DID fit under had probably gone way too long without us pulling it away from the wall. My Bad. At the end of an hour, the floor was very visibly and noticeably cleaner.

Week One

Let me let you in on a little secret. I’m a tech guy. In practical terms what does that boil down to? Wires. I’ve got em. Where I can, they’re routed, fixed and generally hidden, but in the shady recesses behind desks where Roombas might venture they can be found, exposed and vulnerable to the elements. Turns out it’s not that big a deal. As things the Roomba got stuck on revealed themselves, they slowly got evaluated, assessed, and in some cases removed. Getting caught under the edge of one couch? Solved by some $1.99 plastic furniture lifts. Stuck rotating around the legs of a wooden chair for 10 minutes? Chair ended up in the garage. The dirt trap was still pretty much full after every run, one per day in a different part of the house everyday, but at the end of a week the house was looking much better overall. And as a side benefit there was a whole lot less crap lying around on the floor.
🙂

Week Two

So by this time there’s a really big bonus to note about the Roomba over a conventional vacuum. Not only does it not require a lot of direct interaction to get your floors clean, but it also doesn’t make the pets go mental when you turn it on. One sure way to make the dogs and cat disperse in an immediate fashion is to turn on the vacuum cleaner. The noise drives them out of the room as far as they can get and it takes awhile for them to settle down when you finally shut it off.

The Roomba on the other hand doesn’t appear to phase them in the least. It’s (reasonably) quiet for starters. It also isn’t really all that “aggressive”. Our big dog, Aurora, a 13 year old Black Labrador/Dane cross, has a habit of falling asleep right in the middle of the room. The Roomba happily cleans right around her, so much so that she might turn her head to look at it, but rarely is it enough to make her actually stand up. Keep in mind this is when it runs directly into her. The pressure sensor on this piece of hardware is pretty impressive. Before I let it run into Aurora, I did test it out myself first of course – what do you people think I am, a monster? In this way the robot most definitely appears to obey the first law; when it runs into something it immediately stops and tries a different direction. And it stops on a dime. The cat thinks that we bought him a new toy. He chases and jumps on the Roomba like it was covered in catnip. LMAO.

After two weeks we figured out how to properly clean out the unit. Finally breaking down and RTFM helped to figure out how to clean the filter. The chassis is pretty much hollow so a lot of dirt and hair had accumulated there, something you can fix by pretty much shaking the whole thing over a garbage can, preferably outside. The carpet rollers also needed a little attention by this point, as pet hair and assorted other things(thread, plastic twist tie, etc) had been rooted out from the floors of our home and wrapped around the spindle. At this point our cleaning lady, a wonderful woman who has contributed much to keeping our house livable, not only noticed the difference but took the initiative to suggest tackling some of the less “essential” cleaning aspects and generally taking things up a notch: removing all the sink and shower knobs, cleaning in and around them; cleaning the oven(more than the once/yr average); removing all of the window screens, cleaning both them and the windows they’re covering. Did I mention she also takes the dogs out for us once a week? If you’re around #yyj and you want someone hard-working and dependable to give you a hand I can highly recommend this lady. Thank you Sandy!

The trap is still pretty much always full.

Week Three

Stepping it up a notch, the Roomba is now being run 2 or 3 times a day, as much as possible covering the 3 primary areas of the house: the bedroom/bathroom areas, the dining room, and the living room and kitchen. All told it’s about 1800 square feet, broken down in order to roughly 600, 400 and 800 sq/ft chunks. The dirt trap now is starting to not be full. The Roomba is covering more territory every day, all of the electrical cords are tucked away where they can’t be harmed. The cat is now bored with the Roomba and merely takes one tiny step back when it threatens to run into him. The dogs continue to mostly ignore it. The house actually looks better than when we moved in. Despite the two month lifetime stated for the filter, I retired the first filter because it was, quite frankly, toast. Fortunately along with the “special” price 3 more filters were included in the box with the original purchase.

Week Four

Keeping up with things now is a lot easier. The Roomba runs once or twice a day, usually either right after we get home from work(in an area of the house we’re not in), and at night when we’re going to bed. The noise is pretty minimal so running it downstairs in the high-traffic areas at night while we’re sleeping works out really well. It’s also become kind of automatic to deal with. If we’re walking past the place where we charge the Roomba and the light is “green” we pretty much grab it and take it somewhere to do it’s job. If we’re walking past it in the hallway and the light is “red” then it’s time to empty it out and take it back to the charging station. That and remembering to pick up the limited number of things left hanging around on the floor that it can get caught on is pretty much it.

Is it worth it?

Well unless you’ve been paying really bad attention so far, you already know that I think it is. 😉
So here’s the breakdown as I see it.

The Roomba cleans for between 7 and 14 hours per week. I can’t honestly say we ever averaged that much time pushing a vacuum before. The physical effort involved I would estimate at about 5 minutes or so per run, to clear up the floor, turn it loose and then come back and empty it later. So that’s about 30 to 60 minutes a week. And that is kinda the point of a robot isn’t it? Nothing like a division of labor that is 10% planning and 90% labor.

It cleans for approximately an hour every time, and takes a couple or three hours to charge back up to full. I haven’t been explicitly timing this, but it hasn’t varied a lot from this pattern.

It occasionally gets stuck. Personally I just think it’s kinda cool to watch it edge around the top of a staircase, and usually it’s sensible enough to pull back, but every once and awhile it just goes a teeny tiny bit too far and gets stuck slanted and bleating at the edge of the stair. Third Law in full effect here.

Similarly it seemingly hates the half inch foam mat we have under a painting easel, getting caught half-on/half-off the corners of it. With the more expensive Roomba models these are the kind of problems that seem to be usually solved by virtual “walls” which mark boundaries the Roomba should not cross. For us that bought the cheap version, some pretty simple measures close the gap. For the top of the stairs? We already have a gate(s) in place for the pets and it works equally well to keep the Roomba away from places it should not go. For the for mat? Sometimes a chair, sometimes a pair of shoes – whichever one happens to be closer at hand at the time. Weight really isn’t a big factor, but height is. If a surface is high enough and the Roomba bumps into it, it just back off. If it’s too low, the Roomba tries to climb it. Long story short is if there’s anywhere you don’t want your Roomba to go, you can gate it easily with just about anything that will stand in its way and is more than an inch high. As already stated this includes, but is not limited to, pet gates, furniture, people and pets themselves. This pretty much covers the Second Law.

If it gets stuck, well… so what? So far this thing has been so careful that it’s trained us to better behavior. Less things to get stuck on means less things on the floor means less clutter and more things in a closet or on a shelf. If it gets stuck on what’s left, it beeps to tell you so. Give it a kick and set it back on its merry way. The most you lose is <1hr of cleaning time, and you get the balance back with nothing more than moving it around and hitting the button again. Honestly with one simple color/status changing button you get all the information you need about the Roomba just by happening to walk by it. Simple UI FTW!

For the truly interested out there, I tracked this month or Roomba in a Google spreadsheet. Blame my OCD if you want. And for those of you who might be reading this who aren’t total geeks, the Three Laws of Robotics are classic Asimov science fiction.

DateDurationAreas#TimesEmptiedNotes
1/30/2010~45mDen + kitchen1Totally full
1/31/2010~30mMaster bedroom + dressing room1Totally full
2/1/201060m+Den + kitchen + storage 3had trouble getting into storeroom past easel; stuck under couch in places; sticks in corner of couch by glass doors consistently; realized I wasn't emptying trap properly after 2nd time; trap was full even after emptying properly the last time
2/2/201060m+3 bedrooms upstairs3trap was half to 3/4 full each time
2/3/2010<60mfront room2trap was full first time(40m), almost empty the 2nd; light turned yellow after 20m, orange after 40m; tray got caught on persian rug and fell off; first time died under 1h
2/4/2010~60mden+kitchen+storeroom2
2/5/2010~60m3 bedrooms + bathroom1
2/6/2010~45mliving room1pretty full, not totally
2/7/2010~60 mliving room1full
2/7/2010~60 m2 bdrms & bath1
2/8/2010~60m2 bdrms & bath1
2/8/2010~60mDen + kitchen + storage 2
2/9/2010~60mfront room1
2/10/2010unattendedfront room1got caught under couch, weren't home to correct it
2/10/2010~60mden+kitchen+storeroom3
2/11/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/11/2010~60mwhole downstairs3chassis was filled with crud, need to be more thorough when emptying; trap fell off
2/12/2010~60mfront room2caught under couch
2/12/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/13/2010~60mfront room1trap was only about a third full!
2/14/2010~60mfront room1
2/14/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/14/2010~60mden+kitchen+storeroom1run when going to bed, minimal noise
2/15/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/16/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1full, but not compact full
2/16/201025 minden, back room11/2 full
2/17/2010~60 minden11/2 full
2/17/2010~60m3 bdrms & both baths11/2 full, finished completely underneath a bed 🙁
2/18/2010~60mfront room11/2 full
2/19/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1Got stuck once early on, 1/2 full
2/20/2010~60mwhole downstairs2Full both times
2/20/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/21/2010~60m3 bdrms & both baths1full. Got stuck hanging on lip of stairs.
2/21/201060m+den+kitchen+storeroom
3full each time
2/21/2010~60mwhole downstairsrun when going to bed, minimal noise
2/22/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/23/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/24/2010~60mden+kitchen+storeroom
1
2/24/2010~60mden+kitchen+storeroom
1fun for the guests!
2/25/2010~60mden+kitchen+storeroom
1
2/26/2010~60mfront room1
2/27/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths1
2/28/2010~60mwhole downstairs1
2/28/2010~60m2 bdrms & both baths & closet1
3/1/2010~60mfront room1real problems with the couch and persian carpet; got stuck on both more than once
3/1/2010~60mden+kitchen+storeroom
1

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Tales of development, life and the folly that goes along with both.

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