What Is the Roomba®?

Sandi Johnson
Sandi Johnson
Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

In 2002, the Bedford, Massachusetts-based company iRobot® introduced an automatic residential vacuum cleaner known as the Roomba®. A low profile, round robotic sweeper, the Roomba® was the first autonomous, battery-powered, self-navigating vacuum cleaner to gain commercial popularity in the United States. Most models feature rotating brushes to sweep dirt towards a squeegee vacuum, which collects debris in a removable bin. Sensors and a front bumper help navigate the Roomba®, providing the ability to avoid stairs, sense walls and furniture, and determine the vacuum cleaner's course through a room.

Roomba® vacuum models are categorized by number. Cleaning robots include series 500 and series 700, with additional numbers to identify specific features. For example, the 500 series features models 530, 560, and 572. Model 530 is the least expensive model and offers the least features, while the 572 model is designed for environments with pets and includes a larger debris bin. Advanced models, known as the 700 series, feature more advanced scheduling options, dirt sensors, touch pad controls, and high efficiency particle attenuation (HEPA) filters.

Technological advancements have resulted in more autonomous Roomba® models since the initial release in 2002. Initially, iRobot® technology required user input for room size, while modern Roombas® automatically sense the size of a room, as well as floor surface material. Cliff sensors, particulate sensors, and radio frequency sensors relay information to the Roomba®'s onboard computer. Particulate sensors determine heavy dirt levels through acoustics. Radio frequency and cliff sensors tell the vacuum when to avoid stairs and when separately purchased “virtual wall” transmitters are present to further limit cleaning areas.

First generation models ran on nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries and required the user to manually place the Roomba® on an outlet charger. Newer generation models offered self-charging options, where the vacuum returned to a docking station when the battery charge dropped below a certain level. Additional battery options have included independently charged batteries that allowed users to remove and swap batteries for charging. More recent Roomba® models come with internal batteries that cannot be independently charged or swapped.

What began as just an autonomous vacuum cleaner soon advanced into additional products, as well as improved robotic technology for other applications. Early customers could purchase so-called bare bones robots for adaptation of the Roomba® technology to other uses. Government contracts with iRobot® led to the development of autonomous robotic technology for use in bomb detection and other military applications. Further internal company research and development led to additional autonomous cleaning products such as the Scooba® for automated hard floor mopping, the Verro® for automated pool cleaning, and the Looj® for automated gutter cleaning.

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