Back in 2002, a small piece of society’s idealized vision for the future became reality. This year was the debut of the first production Roombas, those autonomous robotic vacuum cleaners shaped like a supersized hockey puck that can find its way around an obstacle-filled room to sweep floors with AI guidance and indoor positioning tech. Having these robotic cleaning aids created by consumer robot manufacturer iRobot was seen as a mark of efficient (or “lazy”) geekiness. After several generations of evolution, a new Roomba i7+ is being previewed by iRobot. It looks like other Roombas before, but has new tricks.
TechCrunch has it that the Roomba i7+ is, in the words of iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle, the first model of their smart home cleaner to most closely approach their ideal concept of the machine. “This is the Roomba I’ve always wanted to make,” Angle proudly declares. The reason why is plain to see once the new model is in action. While obstacle avoidance and room navigation is the Roomba’s bread and butter, the i7+ goes even further by actually memorizing its route and being able to retrace its “steps”. This was built up from the Roomba’s past versions.
The last major development of that feature in the Roomba series before this breakthrough on the i7+ was on its immediate predecessor the Series 900. Introduced in 2015, the “Clean Mapping” ability enabled a Roomba to map out a house’s interior floor area, thus enabling it to cover larger distances in cleaning and still be able to make its way back to its recharge dock. Now, the i7+ version of Clean Mapping can recognize rooms, unlike with the Series 900 that cannot memorize room layouts and must remap every time.
After all, with the Roomba i7+ boasting 50 times the computing power of the Series 900, it can remember a lot and store these “memories” as data. This effectively gives the i7+ a further extended service life, whereas previous Roomba models tend to get swapped out every two to three years like most “planned obsolescence” smartphones. “It’s much more of a platform at this point,” remarks Angle. “We can improve your robot, and you should expect the robot to be more of a software product.” Another improvement on the system is that its standby dock is now able to automatically empty the dust bin of a parked Roomba, leaving users to simply clean out the dock’s main dust storage occasionally.
iRobot now has the Roomba i7+ up for presale order, at $699 per unit. The clean base dock adds another $299 to the tag. Orders will start shipping this September.
Image courtesy of IEEE Spectrum