Fiona refusing to go
Fiona sitting six inches from her charging station screaming "Error! Move Roomba...!

Sorry old girl, you're not helping

| Fiona has been with me since May 20, 2014 when she came home with me from Costco to assume the role of carpet and floor sweeper. Her tenure came to an abrupt end this week with the arrival of Dusty.

Fiona was a trouble-maker from the very beginning. She would careen at random around the house gathering up an embarassing amount of dirt but was abusive to the furniture, ramming into it at full speed and abrading the legs of all the chairs and tables.

There was the time I went away on vacation, and when I came back home she simply refused to get back on her charging station when finished. (The story is here, including video.) She was still under warranty so I counselled with the folks at iRobot who declared themselves mystified and offered to replace her, with a slightly newer model as it turned out.

After another recent absence she did the same thing, but by this time helpful folks on the internet had figured out that this was not a matter of scrambled brains or any electronic malfunction. Rather it the lowest of low-tech problems caused by the failure of the grippers inside the port where you connect the power cord to return to their normal position when the power cord is removed. Brute force with a screwdrive inserted in the port fixed it. Voilà!

Always truculent, it seems, Fiona went way too far a while ago. She would get off her charging station, move back six inches, turn around, then scream loudly, "Error! Move Roomba to a new location!" Moving Roomba to a new location and pressing the clean button simply caused her to scream again, "Error! Move Roomba to a new location!" That's it. Useless. And in just a couple of days I was forced to the realization that I either had to start using an old fashioned vacuum cleaner or replace Roomba.

That's a no-brainer.

I did the research. One of the big divides when it comes to robotic vacuum cleaners is whether they move in a random pattern or whether they in some way map out the room and move systematically, like a Zamboni cleaning the ice at a hockey arena. Fiona was a random mover, and it always seemed terribly inefficient to me, although it worked. There are some newer machines that follow the systematic Zamboni approach, but none of them got terribly good reviews from purchasers. As is my wont, I was inexorably drawn to the latest and greatest from iRobot, model 980. It maps the room; it can recharge and resume cleaning if the battery runs low; it is part of the "internet of things" with its own app providing control from anywhere. The hard-to-swallow part is the price tag: more than double what I paid for my original Roomba. But you can't take it with you, right?

Dusty arrived yesterday, coddled in three layers of boxes and packaging. 

It was immediately obvious that this Roomba is very different.

Fiona's bottom brushes
Fiona's beater and brush
Dusty's bottom brushes
Dusty's beaters — the brush is gone!
Charging station
Dusty's charging station - the "brick" is gone in favor of a direct connection
Towers
Towers. The one on the left is old, the two on the right are the new ones. Note that the new ones can work in two modes: a straight-line barrier, such as when you want to block off a room, and a circular barrier, such as when you want to protect, say, dog dishes or a Ming vase sitting on the floor.
Roomba app
The Roomba app where you can change settings, get reminders to empty the dust bin, find Roomba if it's lost, set the cleaning schedule, check the cleaning history (including a map of the areas cleaned
cleaning map
Map of where Dusty cleaned this morning. The dot is the location of her charging station. Cool!

A short  video showing Dusty using her Zamboni strategy to clean the hallway. It's interesting to me that she seems to make her passes at a diagonal, rather than straight across the room.

Of course the app is interesting, in a bright, shiny object sort of way. It did provide a very easy way to set Dusty's cleaning schedule, but how often do you suppose I will ever look at the map of the areas she cleaned on any given day? Or how often, while I'm out have a drink with friends, will I say, You know, I need to start Dusty with her vacuuming? Don't think so.

Yesterday evening was the first time I ran her, and she went on for almost 3½ hours, in two sessions. I really did not appreciate that she chose to clean my bedroom right after I had gone to bed. Well, shame on me for not just waiting until this morning for her first run. This morning she cleaned the same space in 1½ hours. Reviewers have noted that the first time takes much longer because it is mapping out the room and all the landmarks in it.

Dusty did do a much better job of finding her way back to the charging station than Fiona ever did. I'll be fascinated to see what happens when I unblock the entrance to the guest bedroom and my office.

The other feature that I really, really like is that Dusty is much more gentle than Fiona. She shows much greater awareness that she is approaching something and stops just short and gives it a gentle tap to make sure she has approached as close as possible.

Last updated on Jun 17, 2017

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