We got our hands on another automated housecleaner to carry out appropriate tests. The manufacturer of the device states that this novelty incorporates cutting-edge technologies that improve the quality of cleaning, numerous sensors for appropriate navigation around the rooms being cleaned, a sensor for detection of especially dirty areas of the floor, and even a system against device entanglement in wires.
- Design and package contents
- Technological features
- How and when does it clean
- iRobot Roomba 880 test drive
All in all, it’s supposed that you just push the button and forget about your robotic vacuum cleaner until the moment when it becomes necessary to empty its collection bin filled with some dust of uncertain origin (we clean our house systematically, indeed!).
In the course of testing, we checked whether Roomba 880’s quality of cleaning has improved in comparison with, for instance, Roomba 780. How well does 880 cleans, how does it function in general (which technologies does it incorporate), if there any complaints against its serviceability, how does it behave on different types of floor coating, how much time does it need for cleaning, is its operation noise disturbing for a user? In this article, you can find the answers for all these questions – we have been operating iRobot Roomba 880 for almost a month and studied it rather well.
Before we start talking about our test subject iRobot Roomba 880, let’s dwell on the methodology of testing for a while. First, it had been operating for nearly a month, doing the daily cleaning of a studio apartment (in an automated mode) both in the presence of users and in their absence, including working on different type of surfaces – tiles in the kitchen, a long-piled carpet in the bedroom, linoleum and carpeting in the entrance hall. This stage was intended to identify the long-term convenience or inconvenience of operation of the device.
A no less important stage is special testing, which consists in cleaning two types of coating. The first one is a very complex coating with a high pile (the cleaned surface area is 4.5 sq. m.), and the second one is a classic short-piled carpeting at the testing site with the area of 16 sq. m. with many various obstacles for the robot.
During the second stage 4 full-scale cleaning sessions had been carried out – two for each coating type. We assessed the quality of removal of intentionally spread debris after the first cleaning and after the second one. Also we recorded the time of all sessions, measured the level of noise produced by iRobot Roomba 880, and checked its battery life and charging time.
Design and package contents
You can never judge a book by its cover, but the cover is the first thing you see, so it’s reasonable to start the examination of iRobot Roomba 880 from its appearance. We cannot say that there is something interesting for the user in it. Perhaps, the appearance of this robotic vacuum cleaner is classic for this segment: it has a rounded shape and a chamfer going from its side to the bottom.
A lower part of the bumper is belted with a rubber protector, which prevents scratching the furniture.
Device control is carried out with the help of mechanical buttons. The largest one – a big rounded button – is located at the center of the upper part of the cleaner. Four other functional buttons are located right below. Under the handle there is a plugged service port, which is used for software updating.
The service port is used for diagnostic purposes and software updating with the help of auto programmer OSMO (available only at service centers). Via an upgrade one can, for instance, increase the cleaning speed of the robot, add new algorithms (movement patters) and cycles. Currently users of iRobot 500, 600 and 700 models may update their robots to the software version of 800 series devices.
At the top part of the cleaner one can observe a protruding infrared sensor, which determines the minimum height of interior design items, under which Roomba 880 is able to drive.
Robotic vacuum cleaners iRobot 800 are packaged with a charging station, the dimensions of which are similar to stations supplied with previous models (of 500, 600, and 700 series), but now the power supply unit comes embedded into the base itself, which relieves the user from any possible inconveniences with additional cables. Besides, the weight of a charging dock was slightly reduced, which contributes to stability of its design. The port on the cleaner body, which allowed charging it without the station, was also removed – not a big deal.
Before we proceed to the results of iRobot Roomba 880 testing, let’s talk about the main technologies that are incorporated in the device and which, according to the information provided by the manufacturer, improve the quality of automated cleaning – the main reason for buying a robotic vacuum cleaner.
The main difference of 880 from previous models is the absence of familiar brushes: a rubber one and a bristle one (like in Roomba 780 and most other models of robotic vacuum cleaners, not only just iRobot). Now everything has changed: the device is equipped with two rubber (though by feel this material rather resembles silicone) rollers-scrapers instead. They rotate towards each other and have a peculiar relief (like ribbing) on their surface, which allows the device to catch debris and then suck them into the dust collection bin through the air channel. Lighter particles are eventually retained by the HEPA-filter, heavier ones settle on the bottom of the bin.
The main reason for bristle brush removal is a trouble with winding threads, hair, and other long and thin litter on it, which is peculiar for all such vacuum cleaners (including conventional ones with turbo heads). The manufacturer promises that the risk of winding now is as low as possible.
This model has an enlarged dust collection bin (volume – 1.1 liter) with a modified design. The suction module now is located right inside the bin and has an updated design as well – they made it more compact, but at the same time they increased its power, which, according to the information provided by the manufacturer, resulted in saving space inside the dust bin while improving the device performance.
The new cleaner has only one output HEPA-filter (700 series’ models have two of them). Yet, Roomba 880’s filter has an increased area, which is better in terms of lowering the airflow resistance and therefore increasing speed and suction power of the device.
An important element of any accumulator-based device is the accumulator itself. The manufacturer states that the battery life has doubled in comparison with previous series models. In the course of testing we checked the time of operation of Roomba 880 with a fully charged battery, and the result is just under 3 hours. The complete battery charging took 2 hours and 10 minutes.
We cannot but mention the incorporated system for detecting the floor dirtiness degree called Dirt Detect 2. It functions in the way that when the cleaner “thinks” that a certain area of the floor is particularly dirty, it cleans this area more carefully – drives several times on this dirty spot. The technology is based on the data received from an acoustic sensor and an optical sensor (an infrared emitter with a photoelectric receiver). The first sensor determines the degree of dirtying at the current location by the sound of debris particles intake picked up by the microphone, and the second one scans the airflow and determines the necessity of additional cleaning of this or that place by the airflow resistance created by the debris being sucked in. When an enhanced cleaning mode is on, a blue indicator on the control panel is lit.
Altitude difference infrared sensors are located over the entire circumference of the lower part of iRobot Roomba 880. There are 6 of them, and they prevent the device from falling, for instance, down the stairs.
An important point is the orientation of the robotic vacuum cleaner in space indoors. The better the robot constructs its world map, the better will be the results of cleaning, and the shorter will be its time. The manufacturer states that model 880 has a new, “more intelligent” navigation system – iAdapt Responsive Navigation Technology. This model has no cameras, so praised by other producers. Orientation of Roomba 880 in the process of movement is regulated by a system of infrared sensors, a moving mechanical bumper with contact detectors, a system of tracking of drive wheels and rollers-scrapers, and an optical sensor for registration of the steering roller rotation, which therefore controls motion of the robot and the distance traveled.
Another matter of importance is the technology that prevents the cleaner from getting entangled in cables. It’s no secret that along with winding debris on the brushes this is one of the most noticeable problems that occur in operation of such equipment. So, when Roomba 880 finds itself in an unfavorable area with many cables, it trys to escape it and changes its movement direction. It sounds rather simple, but, looking ahead, we should say that the testing has proved the efficiency of this system.
We should note that Roomba 880 “recognizes” rooms of two types. The device distinguishes them by their area: big rooms (starting from 12 sq. m.) and small rooms (up to 12 sq. m., correspondingly). Floor area measurement is taken in the process of device operation with the help of motion sensors (for instance, the sensor below the steering roller). Of course, the robot receives only approximate data on the area, but, according to the manufacturer’s statements, this data is not far from the truth. The appropriate cleaning algorithm is chosen depending on the room size. According to the manufacturer, the robot will clean a room that is larger than 12 sq. m. in area in at least 25 minutes. If a very large area is to be cleaned (40-50 sq. m.), then it would be better to split a room in at least two parts with the help of Virtual Wall Lighthouses that come standard with the cleaner in order to improve the quality of cleaning and to optimize the battery discharge.
How and when does it clean
Unlike, for instance, its Korean competitors (LG and Samsung robotic vacuum cleaners), iRobot Roomba 880 doesn’t have a wide range of cleaning programs. And it’s not so bad, because the user is not forced to choose one of many attractive programs. The manufacturer believes that this is unnecessary. Automation means automation – you just have to push the button and get the result with no unnecessary speculations on debris’ fate.
As most of modern robotic vacuum cleaners, iRobot Roomba 880 is able to clean the apartment on schedule: the user may program the cleaning start time for each weekday (one setting for each day).
iRobot Roomba 880 test drive
So, let’s get down to cleaning. The robot was used, as we stated above, in an ordinary studio apartment with a total area of about 40 sq. m. We set a weekly cleaning algorithm for every day and used Virtual Wall Lighthouses to restrict device movement – we placed them in doorways between the room and the hallway, and between the hallway and the kitchen. Lighthouses were used to help the cleaner cover all the apartment and then guide it back to the charging station. At that time the robot was doing the cleaning both in the absence of users (in the daytime on working days) and in their presence (on weekends).
The result of our home-use testing was not only finding lots of debris and dust by the robot, especially in first two-three days of cleaning, despite the apartment was more or less recurrently cleaned with the help of a powerful conventional vacuum cleaner (not on everyday basis, of course). This situation was expected – it is always true with automated cleaners. However, it was a lot more interesting for us to check, how it would behave in the apartment in general.
Yes, we created rather adequate – if not ideal – conditions for its operation: we minimized the number of cables on the floor (though we had no possibility to remove them altogether – some wires were left), removed all possible items from the floor (for instance, we put the shoes away, at last), and even lifted chairs and put them on the table in the kitchen. There is some furniture in the apartment, but not too many items of it. Roomba 880 was working different types of surfaces – linoleum, carpeting with different pile lengths, floor tiles in the kitchen. We were expecting that the device would make a mistake, that it would nevertheless become entangled in some sparse wires, that it would get stuck somewhere, that we would find it dead in the middle of the carpet halfway to the charging station… But alas! Several in weeks of testing there was not a single case when the cleaner would do something wrong. Yes, it was moving the doormat, but it was the only reason for complaining. The apartment stage of testing had been completed by iRobot Roomba 880, one may say, with a clean sweep.
The manufacturer recommends to change the HEPA-filter every two months in case of everyday use of iRobot Roomba 880. This filter cannot be washed, and it should be cleaned at least once or twice a week. Rollers-scrapers should be changed once a year. The rotating side brush and the front steering roller should be changed as necessary. Visible sensors and contact pads of the device and the charging station should be wiped for dust removal at least once a week.
Next, everything became more complicated. Test conditions became more severe. The second stage of testing consisted of four full-scale cleaning sessions in two rooms with different area and different floor coating. An extreme test: a section with long-pile carpeting with the area of 4.5 sq. m. And a more calm test in terms of the carpeting, but performed in the room with the area of around 16 sq. m. with obstacles in form of various items placed on the floor, a zone with cables, and a small spot that, we expected, would be inaccessible for the robot.
During iRobot Roomba 880 testing we measured the level of noise produced by the cleaner in operation (in an automated cleaning mode) as well. Noise levels at different distances from the robot ranged from 56 dB to 62 dB. The cleaner is not as quiet as a mouse, indeed – as early as at the apartment stage of testing it became clear that an automated cleaning shouldn’t be scheduled for night time, and that it’s not so comfortable to watch TV in a room with an operating Roomba 880. It is to be recalled that the noise level of modern conventional vacuum cleaners (bagless models, for instance) ranges between 70-80 dB.
In case of threaded fringe at the area of 4.5 sq. m. with lots of debris spread over it (for instance, paper pieces, wheat flakes, etc.), the first cleaning took about 15 minutes. We cannot say that the robot completed its work perfectly, but the most part of debris was removed: the device left about 10% of all the stuff on the battlefield.
The second cleaning session had to deliver the ultimate result. It took nearly the same amount of time, and after it we found a really small amount of debris left: some in the corner near the tub with the palm tree, and some near the charging station (it is a common situation – most robotic vacuum cleaners drive round their stations while operating, so debris located near the station remain untouched) – eventually the device cleaned no less than 97-98% of debris. Then we collected the residuals swept down with the rotating brush in a manual mode, operating the cleaner via a remote controller (by the way, our threaded testing ground was elevated above the floor level, so we checked the fall protection system of the robot at the same time – and it prevented falling).
Due to the floor coating structure of the area where the abovementioned testing stage was performed, a small amount of debris, so to say, had fallen through threads and remained in the coating – the robot failed to retrieve it. However, we consider the results of this test segment very good, because such type of coating, as noted above, represents extreme conditions for robots.
The next segment of testing was a room with the area of 16 sq. m. with carpet flooring and several obstacles placed – a flower vase, fan, heater, illumination device with cables, and a wire running along a wall unfastened. Here debris were represented not only by flakes and pieces of paper, but also by some threads and clips. Here we used Virtual Wall Lighthouses to restrict movement – the total area of the room was actually more than 16 sq. m.
As a result, the robot completed the first cleaning session in 35 minutes, and the second one took more than 42 minutes. As in the first case, there remained some leftover debris after the first session, but not much. The cleaner didn’t forget to drive in a littered little spot, and in a corner at the rear of the charging station. The amount of debris around the fan legs and the heater was significantly diminished, and the robot drove around the vase several times.
An interesting situation occurred with the floor standing glass vase. Despite its optical proximity sensors, Roomba 880 didn’t notice the vase several times and bumped into it at full speed – without turning it over, just slightly moving it aside. There is an explanation – the glass is transparent, that’s why sensors not always trigger and recognize the obstacle. If the glass were corrugated, such situation most likely wouldn’t have appeared. The same happens with, for instance, dark or black items – often the cleaner cannot recognize them because of a low optical reflection intensity (it happens, for example, with dark table or chair legs, skirt boards, and so on).
During the two cleaning sessions in this room Roomba, of course, was driving across areas with wires and cables, which had been placed there deliberately. The device did not get stuck or become entangled even once. Sometimes it was pulling a cable, but eventually dropping it when the tension was too high to move forward (however, in everyday use the robot may catch on some cable, which will result in something dropping, for instance, a reading lamp from a table).
After the second cleaning session, which, as mentioned above, was longer than the first one, there remained an extremely small amount of debris again – some in the area with a wire, some in the corner behind the charging station, near the station itself, and a small amount at the edge of the area being cleaned and near Virtual Wall Lighthouses.
We should note that the device almost perfectly cleaned areas around legs of the fan and the heater. No debris were found near the vase (when the robot was bumping into the vase, its soft contact sensors installed in the bumper were activated, and the device was “carefully” driving round the transparent obstacle, cleaning all the surrounding debris).
Let’s take a look at the issue with threads, hair, and other similar garbage winding on rollers-scrapers. In the course of testing we found out that something is hardly even wound on rubber-coated rollers themselves (unlike conventional rotating brushes). Threads and pet hair may wind on roller ends and only on them! Besides, winding never was hard and tight – if desired, one could easily remove the garbage by hand, and a conventional vacuum cleaner solves this problem in a matter of seconds. Of course, if you have a “hairy” pet, more litter will be winding on roller ends, but it won’t be such a great problem as before – we believe that this result of testing is as much important as the data on the quality of cleaning.
On completion of iRobot Roomba 880 testing, we may ascertain that it is a handy device for your home. The robot finds and cleans debris, dirt, and dust that are hardly noticeable in an ordinary apartment. In the course of our testing, there were no cases of device entanglement in wires at all the testing stages (!).
It should be understood, that a robotic vacuum cleaner is not an all-sufficient housecleaning device. Its only reasonable task is to maintain an adequate level of cleanness in the house (especially for owners of animals shedding fur and for families with children), but only in periods between more careful cleanings with the help of a powerful wet and dry vacuum cleaner.
The main advantage of this models, apart from a high quality of cleaning, is its easy maintenance. Every built up debris and dirt, for instance, wound hair or threads, can be easily removed. Nothing winds on its main rollers, and its roller ends may be easily cleaned. We suggest adding an updated HEPA-filter with an increased area and protection grid, and the device service life will be longer.