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First Look: iRobot Roomba 780

We’ve had an iRobot Roomba 780 scooting around our office for the past few weeks. This is one of the more expensive iRobot models at $1248. It comes with a day and time scheduler, two virtual walls, a remote control, and a full array of navigation and control sensors. We trialled it over two weeks in a room about five metres square with a short-pile carpet and a few obstacles such as a table and stacked boxes.

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Getting started

It is easy to set up and use. Once the docking station is positioned and the daily cleaning schedule is set, the Roomba can be left alone to do its thing – well almost, the dirt collection bin is tiny. At first, we needed to empty it in the middle of a cleaning cycle, but as the floor got cleaner over a week we could go longer between emptying – up to a couple of days.

The Roomba wasn’t upset by the obstacles in the room – even finding its way out of a tight corner underneath a ladder. It uses a random pattern to navigate, which left parts of the room untouched in a cleaning cycle, but over a few daily cycles the whole room got covered (apart from a 40mm strip around the edges of the room). Dirt sensors force it to break the random pattern and concentrate on particularly dirty areas, and bump sensors turn it around when it hits an obstacle. It was fun to watch, for a while at least!

The Roomba cleaned for up to 80 minutes between charges, less when the floor was particularly dirty. It took a few hours to charge, so in practice this was the limit of its daily cleaning cycle. In two weeks, we found it twice failed to dock and charge – once it pushed the docking station into a corner it couldn’t reach, and once it got tangled on a piece of string and shut down mid-clean.

Cleaning performance

During the trial we tested it on large pieces of debris, trodden-in Weet-Bix and general household sweepings. Over two weeks, we did notice the carpet becoming cleaner. But larger pieces of debris ended up getting pushed along the floor before being picked up, leaving trails across the room. Some of the ground-in Weet-Bix was removed, but a noticeable amount remained in the carpet. Using its “spot clean” function to give the localised area an extra clean helped.

The two virtual walls worked as promised, preventing the robot leaving the room through open doors.

Our verdict

Overall, the robot attracted lots of attention, and did make a difference to the carpet cleanliness. But ultimately, after two weeks we still needed to attack the carpet with a manual vacuum cleaner to get it really clean. That manual clean took 10 minutes and left us wondering just how much value we got from our $1248 investment in robotics.

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

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