In case there was any doubt, I have just proven incontrovertibly that I am a person who has more money than sense. I bought a Roomba.

What can I say? I had a moment of weakness. It's a robot that runs around your house. I can't be expected to resist something like that indefinitely! What am I, made of stone?

It's really, really cute. I spent the first ten minutes just following it around and giggling. I kept rooting for it every time it got stuck somewhere: "Oh no! Turn left, little guy! Turn left! You can do it, I know you can!"

Also, it communicates in R2D2-esque beeps. When it starts up, it plays a little, "let's go!" tune; it beeps like a truck when it backs up; and when it runs out of juice it goes, "uh oh!" There's a handy translation key. (In fact, I think they're missing a great branding opportunity by not making these things look even more like the Millenium Falcon.)

Oh, also it vaccuums. It seems to do a decent, if slow, job of that, and it hasn't gotten stuck yet. I have seen it successfully swallow pistachio shells and pennies. It always seems to find its way out of tight spots (though it fought one chair for a good long time.) I'm impressed at its ability to not get completely discombobulated by cables and loose stacks of paper.

It doesn't follow any kind of easily-discernable pattern when tooling around the room, so it's kind of hard to guess how long it'd have to run before there was a statistical likelihood that the whole room had been vaccuumed. There might be some spots it never found, but I'm not sure. (It's a Heisenvaccuum!)

But, cuteness only goes so far. I'm afraid it's not quite good enough, yet...

  • Battery life is terrible. It seems like you get about an hour of run-time out of three hours of charge. I'd guess that it would have to run for about four hours to have cleaned the main room of my apartment (not counting the bedroom and bathroom.)
  • That wouldn't be a problem if the docking station worked, but it doesn't. In theory, it's supposed to return to the dock when it's running out of juice, then continue. But I have never once seen it dock successfully. I've seen it get with six inches of the dock, turn around, and look for it elsewhere. It just doesn't work at all. (I've tried putting the dock in several different spots, so it's not just a reflection problem or something.)

  • Besides which, it finds the dock by an IR beacon, which means that if the dock is around the corner when it starts running low, you're screwed. Roomba doesn't build a map, so it won't know how to find its way home if it can't see it.

  • Even if all of the above worked: there's no timer. Shouldn't your autonymous robo-maid be smart enough to clean up every monday at noon while you're not home? And make me a cocktail?

So, it's cute, but in no way practical. I don't think it will result in my apartment being cleaner. As far as robotic enjoyment per unit dollar goes, I think I get more pleasure out of my paper shredder. (Especially when there are CDs or credit cards involved. Mmmm, crunchy!)

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65 Responses:

  1. stenz says:

    Do you have any pets? I would think that it would be far more interesting to program it to harass pets than it would be to clean.
    Especially if you could reprogram it to actually hunt/taunt pets.

  2. hatter says:

    So much potential, shame your review seems to say it sucks. Totally with you with the shredder. Shredding good, cross-cut good, shredding CDs good. Crosscut CD shredding - not so attainable. Maybe I'm just not looking in the right places, that model says it crosscuts, but doesn't admit to liking CDs.

    the hatter

  3. jkonrath says:

    The only problem with me getting a roomba, other than the total lack of any floor space in my apartment, is that I would spend all of my time reading and trying to find a way to add a new computer to it and maybe some kind of flamethrower attachment.

  4. icis_machine says:

    couldn't you buy a robot not sold at target?
    i figured, you'd be all about wasting your money on this instead.

  5. ciphergoth says:

    Sounds like the next robot vacuum cleaner will actually be some good then...

  6. loosechanj says:

    I, for one, welcome your new vacuuming robot overlord.

  7. sproutchk says:

    Hiya! I found you through a friend of a friend sort of thing and added you. Feel free to add me back. So you're the owner of DNA lounge? That's pretty awesome. Haven't ever been there but I have a friend who I guess knows someone who works there so I've been wanting to check it out.

    Nice to meet ya!

    • mbrez says:

      Welcome new jwz fanboy!

      • sproutchk says:

        thanks, but i'm a girl

        • pdx6 says:

          Okay, Fangirl, but I think that fanboy is a generic term, as you never hear of "womanholes" or signs that say "women at work".

          • sproutchk says:

            ok ok now that's obvious. But usually when it comes to fan sexes I usually hear it applied to the sex of the fan. i.e.: Fanboy and fangirl.

            I hang out with a lot of geeks so its a term that gets tossed about quite a bit and for the most part the boys refer to themselves as fanboys and the girls are fangirls.

            Just a thought.

            It didn't bother me that I was referred to as a fanboy I just wanted to make sure people didn't actually think I was a guy.

  8. alanablue says:

    My vaccuum envy lies with the dyson. Although i think the roomba is super cute...

  9. i was in meijer a couple days ago and in their toy section they have a robot on display. it can pick stuff up and throw it, fight with other robots, and dance. pretty cool. there was no price or anything, just a display station.

    but yanno...if you have more money than sense, it would be a highly nonsensical thing to do to buy me the meijer robot.


  10. FWIW, my Roomba has done a decent job (better than me) in my 500 and 750 sq foot apartments.

  11. I have a very similar shredder. And I noticed that up to now I haven't been able to empty the overflowing bin without spilling at least some of confetti around. I tried stuffing a plastic bag inside the bin and tried it without the bag.

  12. I have a grudge against the Roomba. Two reasons:

    1) What iRobot, or rather, the companies that iRobot bought, was doing before it produced the Roomba was about a thousand times cooler. Some time ago, they purchased Real World Interfaces, one of the major producers of research robots. As you might imagine, there are very few producers of research robots. RWI made some unique and wonderful bots, with full PCs on board, wireless ethernet, expandable sensor arrays, etc. Then iRobot decided that the fucking Roomba was a better business investment, and shut down the research robot division.

    I use RWI robots. We can no longer get replacement parts or repairs. Grrr.

    2) August 2003, Robotic Urban Search and Rescue competition: In previous years, the first and second place prizes were ridiculously awesome-- full scale research robots. They're worth on the order of $8-10k. In 2003 though, iRobot sponsored, and gave the first place winners and second place winners(my team) a fucking Roomba.

    Granted, our lab needs cleaning, but the little bugger does get stuck up there...

  13. sc00ter says:


    Dyson Robovac
    Robovac/camera with a web interface
    Another robovac
    one more

    Most of those look like they would work much better, they also look much more expensive.

  14. kiskadee says:

    At first our Roomba had trouble finding the docking station, until we moved it away from the home theater devices, then it worked great every time. It is not very good on carpet (battery drains swiftly) but excellent on the tile floors.

    Certainly the other drawbacks are unfortunate, but I disagree about its practicality. Our main use is getting rid of lots of dog hair on a tile floor, and it is doing a great job so far. (Not only that, but the dog is mostly indifferent to the Roomba, whereas he will lunge at and try to attack the regular vacuum.)

    Could be you just have a defective unit... did you try exchanging it?

  15. inpetto says:

    I actually have a Roomba and it has revolutionized my vacuuming. Now it actually gets done! I just drop it on the floor when I leave the house in the morning. Charge when I get home, then run it before bed and charge again right before bed. I actually have 2 batteries now so it doesn't matter if I miss a charge or something.

    I have the old Roomba that you have to charge manually. It's still easier than vacuuming and my floors never looked cleaner.

    • sc00ter says:

      How's it work really? Does it get the whole floor? How long does it run for?

      I live in an apt. that's about 930sqft.

      Does it deal with multiple rooms well? Going from tile to carpet?

      • alisgray says:

        they are not systematic in their pattern of cleaning. climbs tile to carpet fine. if you have much furniture, especially with a small footprint, it may spend more time turning around than actually sweeping.

  16. cyeh says:

    I saw a big set of Roomba's on display this morning at Sears, and I too, was briefly seduced by the round, cute R2D2 shape.

    What made this interesting was that previously, everytime I saw a Roomba my first thought was 'what a completely and utterly useless waste of resources and money'. But somehow, this time around I didn't have that reaction and almost stopped to see how much they were.

    So either I'm getting older, or they have placed reality distortion field generators on every one.

  17. schnee says:

    *chuckles* Silly thing. ^^ How much do they cost?

  18. merovingian says:

    My mom loves these things. She has one, and buys one as a gift for any relative any time she has an excuse.

  19. ch says:

    we've got one. the cable entanglement issue makes it nearly useless in some parts of our home.

    the amusement factor re: the cats is quite high. run away! run away!

  20. ammonoid says:

    If I had one of those I'd feel compelled to paint the French flag on it, and give it antennae. And make it sing the opening to the 1812 overture.

  21. irilyth says:


    You know you want to.

  22. alisgray says:

    I herded roombas for the science museum of minnesota's hosting of an exhibit about robots.

    1) they don't really suck much, at least the ones we had didn't. more of a floor-sweeper.

    2) string is the nemesis. unbent paperclips may stop them cold.

    3) they're still pretty good companions. if you're a very lonely person.

    • romulusnr says:

      not just string, but hair. and i have to agree, small pieces of bent metal can really piss them off. then again, they are smart enough to stop when something does get stuck in there, so your worst result is that you have to clean the brushes earlier than you might have wanted to, instead of having to bury your $150-$250+ vacuum. on the bright side, the brushes pop out easily for cleaning.

      after <lj comm=seattle>'s recent war over pets as a substitute for human companionship, i twitch at the thought of someone suggesting roombas as an alternative.

  23. terryray says:

    Believe it or not, we now own *two* Roombas. (Don't ask.)

    You can get it to dock, really you can. You just have to put the docking station against a wall, far from any distracting corners or obstacles, and very far away from any competing IR sources. That's right, right there, the place with no nearby outlets. Don't forget to sacrifice two barnyard animals.

    Unless, of course your Roombas is busted. Our second Roomba decided to stop spinning its brushes, and we eventually had to send it back. They sent back the replacement. Which doesn't seem to respond to any IR at all, not the remote, not the virtual walls, and not the docking station. I have not yet mustered up the stamina to go talk to customer service again, who of course are just going to make me ship it back to them.

  24. That translation key page reminds me far too much of those old "Simon Says" games they had back in the '80s. Especially the red one.

  25. pygmalion says:

    my roommate <lj user=kitos> has one like it. First time he used it, we spent the night watching it bump around and turn about. Fun for the whole family, I tell you. And it did a pretty damn good job. I don't know about robot masters, but I sure like my robot pets.... that clean.

  26. romulusnr says:

    fundamentally it's nice to be able to turn the sucker on, let it do its thing, while you do yours. after all, that was the original selling point of the 50s household automation wet dream.

    as i speak a little red sucker (literally) is whacking itself from the TV to the couch to the fireplace to the invisible wall. no one has to push it, and it doesn't keep anyone up. but in ten minutes of no one having to do anything, it's picking up a dozen or two forgotten shreds of construction paper and untold rice crispies.

    now, hook me up with the damn automatic cooking kitchen already.

  27. maarten says:

    Ever since I bought a shredder that happens to also have a slot marked "shred credit card here", I've wondered: how many people actually go through enough cards to need a machine to cut them up? Are there business managers who need to shred cards that were issued to employees? Or what?