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Robotic vacuums make chores easier for busy families

Oh, sure, you’ve probably heard the hype and you might have even tried one of these convenient cleaning helpers yourself. We’re talking about robots that help clean your floors, and, if you’ve paid attention the past few years, many of your friends and family may be extolling the virtues of these machines.

So is the hype worth the convenience and cost?

Before purchasing a robotic vacuum cleaner, Henderson resident JoAnn Marzolf checked the website bestreviews.com. After comparing the possibilities (and seeing that Amazon Prime had specials at the time), she purchased a Roomba.

“I like that you can have it run while you are out,” she said. “The bad side is that you need to make sure everything is picked up (like long curtains and dog toys) or the Roomba will get stuck.”

One of Marzolf’s friends warned her to keep the dogs out of the room when the robot is cleaning. Apparently, the friend’s dog had an accident on the floor, and the robot proceeded to pick up the waste and fling it all around the room.

Marzolf notes that she and her husband use the Roomba app to schedule cleanings. “However, you need to clean it out after every time as the receptacle is not large.”

Roomba, from the iRobot company, is the most well-known robotic vacuum cleaner. The company launched the first Roomba vacuum in 2002, and, according to the iRobot website, the “award-winning Roomba Vacuuming Robot and the Braava family of mopping robots have been welcomed into millions of homes around the world and are hard at work every day helping people to get more done.”

According to Charlie Vaida, iRobot senior manager of corporate communications, “To date, iRobot has sold more than 20 million robots worldwide. Roomba constitutes the majority of iRobot’s business in the United States and globally. According to iRobot’s 2017 results, iRobot sold almost 3.7 million robots total worldwide in 2017. Of these 3.7 million robots, 3.2 million were Roomba robot vacuums, and 500,000 were Braava robot mops.”

The company’s line of consumer robots can be found at a variety of local retailers.

“Regarding trends, customers are always asking for easier ways to interact with a growing number of products and technologies throughout the home, Vaida said. “Features like Wi-Fi connectivity, app control and compatibility with popular smart home products, like Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant, provide Roomba customers with even more convenience and control.

“Customers also want a vacuuming robot that they can count on to complete the job without incident. Improved mapping and navigation capabilities enable some vacuuming robots to clean an entire level of a home, while recharge and resume technology means the robot will continue to work until the job is finished.”

Mike and Jenny McKinzie purchased a Roomba as a Christmas gift for their family. A friend recommended it, and when Mike McKinzie saw one on sale at Costco, he decided to give it a try.

“I thought maybe it was an overpriced novelty, but it does work pretty well,” he said.

The couple’s 11-year-old son is in charge of controlling it from the iPad.

“He has been quite successful doing this on his own,” Jenny McKinzie said. “He’s enjoyed it so much that he has researched all the add-ons and options available and can quote the prices.

“It really does pick up a ton of things I had no idea were on the floor,” she added. “I also like how it goes all the way under the beds with no problem. It rarely gets stuck.”

While all of these robotic vacuums basically do the same chore, there are different ways they can be controlled. Some people simply use the actual vacuum’s buttons, but for those more technologically savvy, an app can integrate with a smart home and the robot can be controlled from afar.

Those thinking about a purchase should also study battery life, especially for a larger home. Some newer models have a battery that allows for a full two hours of cleaning. At the conclusion of cleaning, the robot will automatically return to its charging station to get ready for its next job.

Before purchasing, consumers also will want to see if the vacuum supports Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

Another feature to consider is if the vacuum includes technology to follow a pattern. The Neato Botvac has lidar technology, meaning that it maps out a floor plan and stays on the grid of that plan.

For Lori Turner, that made all the difference in her purchase. “Because it has this technology, it is able to vacuum every inch of dirt. I have allergies and feel that it really helps with controlling them.”

Turner also shared that the Neato Botvac has an app, and she can turn it off from her smartphone if she sees that the machine has gotten stuck.

“However, it does need cleaning of its sensors and brushes after each use,” she said. She added that when their home got a new router, it was challenging to delete and reconnect/reprogram the vacuum.

Robotic vacuums are available in all price ranges — from $200 for a very basic model to upward of $900 for one with more features. However, experts warn that you shouldn’t get rid of your manual vacuum just yet. While smart cleaners are getting more capable every year, there are some things they still can’t do.

As of right now, they work best on hardwood floors and are good at picking up debris and pet hair. Keep in mind that these are machines. They fall down stairs, get caught on area rugs and sometimes even drag objects like lamps and shoes around a room.

They’re not great at cleaning high-pile carpeting (fibers get stuck), and they can’t always get into the nooks and crannies of every room. Also, even if you purchase one that has mapping technology, the machine can get lost within a house and sometimes even trap itself in a closet.

What’s next in the world of robotic household helpers? Other items currently available include mopping robots, robotic lawn mowers, kitty litter robots, pool cleaners and personal dry cleaning machines. Cleaning your home as you know it is rapidly changing and, hopefully, these types of helpers will give us all a little assistance.

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