Robotic vacuum cleaner, often called simply robovac, is form of autonomous vacuum cleaner that operates as carpet sweeper and vacuum cleaner. They have motorized brushes that sweep dirt and debris from the floor and have fan connected to electric motor to create suction and collect remaining dust and dirt. Robotic vacuum cleaners move mostly in chaotic pattern across a floor, but some of them can have preprogrammed trajectory. They are usually smart enough to avoid colliding with furniture. Robotic vacuum cleaners return to docking station to recharge batteries and some models can even empty their dust containers into docking station.
Robotic vacuum cleaners are designed for home use, but there are also models for offices, hotels, workshops etc.
Some of the characteristics of robotic vacuum cleaners that one can use to compare various models are:
- Mopping Attachment - helps clean various types of dirt from different surfaces
- LED Display - display status of various components and their parameters, for example, how filled dust bin is, status of battery etc
- Adjustable Speed - some robotic vacuum cleaners move around with constant speed, while some of them adjust speed according to the type of surface and amount of dirt on surface (they usually measure amount of dirt entering dust bin)
- Built-in UV Lamp - UV light for germicidal irradiation. Ultraviolet lamp irradiates air flow before air is exhausted from vacuum cleaner. UV lamp can be positioned in front of dust bin or after dust bin and filter (according to the air flow) - position behind dust bin and filter is much better because there are no, or almost no, bigger particles where allergens and mites can 'hide' behind. If you have model with UV lamp, don't try to take apart your vacuum cleaner while UV lamp is still on - you will probably lose warranty, which is less important. More important, UV light is not good for human skin and eyes and sunburns can occur even after short exposure to UV light.
- Remote Control - control robotic vacuum cleaner with remote control device similar to other household appliances. Usually, you can even program your robotic vacuum cleaner using remote control device - when to clean, area to clean etc.
- Avoids Stairs, Walls and Furniture - most modern robotic vacuum cleaners have range of sensors for safe operation in different environments. They use mostly optical, acoustic and tactile sensors to 'sense' their environment and to avoid falling the stairs and hitting the walls or furniture.
- Self-Charging - using sensors, robotic vacuum cleaners can find their docking or base stations and recharge their batteries. Since typical operating time of robotic vacuum cleaners last less than 3-4 hours (entry level robotic vacuum cleaners can operate less then 60 minutes on a single recharge), don't buy robotic vacuum cleaners that are unable to find their docking/base station and recharge their batteries.
- Side Brush - side brush or any similar cleaning device can help robovac to clean corners. Since most of the robotic vacuum cleaners are round in shape, they have problems regarding cleaning corners and side brush can be of great help.
- Spot Cleaning - using on-board sensors, some robovacs can sense spots of dirt and clean that area in several passes. This doesn't sound important, but if you have small children that often tend to spill various foods on the floor (they are children after all :o) ), then this can be valuable option to have.
- Capacity of Dust Bin - due to small size of robotic vacuum cleaners (when compared to bigger 'manual' vacuum cleaners), dust bins have capacity usually less than one liter. Some more expensive vacuum cleaners have dust bins in base stations and automatic emptying of vacuum cleaner dust bins into base station dust bins.
- Maximum Height of Barrier Before Stopping - due to low height clearance, robotic vacuum cleaners have problems transitioning from surface to surface. Maximum height of barrier before stopping tell us how high or low barrier can robotic vacuum cleaner overcome on it's own - this is usually few centimeters. If you have carpets on hard floor, this is important information.
- Width of Effective Vacuuming - this value varies and it shows width of cleaned surface in a single pass. Larger it is, less travel robotic vacuum cleaner must do to clean an area.
- Battery Type and Capacity - determine how long will battery last, how sensitive to memory effect it is and how many recharges can battery pack last. NiCd batteries can hardly be found on newer robotic vacuum cleaners. NiMh batteries are cheaper and usually found on entry level robotic vacuum cleaners, while lithium batteries are more expensive, but have higher capacity, can withstand more charging cycles, don't have memory effect etc. For more about batteries, please check Vacuum Cleaner Battery Types.
- Suction Power - often given in watts can't be always found with ease. Manufacturers often 'neglect' to mention these values, especially for smaller models, because 3-4W of suction power and maybe 60 minutes of operating time when compared with 30-40W of suction power and 90 minutes of operating time on single charge, doesn't look good and indicates small/weak battery and robotic vacuum cleaner that should be, in general, considered as entry level model.
- Easy to Clean and Maintain - before buying your robotic vacuum cleaner, check how dust bins are cleaned and how batteries are replaced. If your vacuum cleaner has small dust bin and it is rather complicated to empty it, then you will not be satisfied with it.
- Supports a Variety of Flooring Surfaces - in combination with Maximum Height of Barrier Before Stopping determines how versatile robotic vacuum cleaner is. More varieties of floor surfaces require more robust and better equipped robovac with higher maximum barrier height.
- Programmable Timer - timer and other parameters can be programed in some robovacs. Some higher models can even have cleaning trajectory programmed. Programmed timer enables robotic vacuum cleaners to vacuum area in specified intervals and then to return to base station to recharge (and empty on-board dust bin, depending on model).
- Cleaning Area - determines area in square meters (or feet) that can be cleaned with single battery recharge.
Can robotic vacuum cleaners replace 'classic' vacuum cleaners? No, they can't, at least not yet. They are too small, too weak and have many other shortcomings when compared with their bigger, but manual, cousins.