Vac to the Future – It’s Time for a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

By Erik J. Martin

Nobody truly enjoys scrubbing the toilet, emptying the dryer’s lint trap, bringing the garbage cans to the curb, or washing the dishes. Despite all the latest smart gadgets and technological advances, household maintenance and basic chores remain elbow grease-powered manual tasks that continue to elicit groans and sighs.

So why not effectively eliminate at least one common but dreaded chore – sweeping and vacuuming floors – from the list by keeping up with the 21st century and finally purchasing a robotic vacuum cleaner? These amazing gizmos have come a long way since their introduction in the mid-1990s, and today’s models are much smarter and less expensive than you may think.

“The first robot vacuums used fairly unsophisticated navigation, bumping around the room or home as they cleaned. They also lacked suction power, and many were more of a novelty than a real help around the house,” says Scott McAndrew, founder/owner of VacHQ.com. “Nowadays, however, robot vacuums have evolved, and top-tier brands offer models with extremely efficient mapping and navigation, good suction, voice-command integration, and even floor mopping.”

Last year represented a major leap in robotic vacuum innovation, with major brands rolling out improved navigation, auto-emptying capabilities, and the dawn of true object recognition and obstacle avoidance. Now, the best of the bunch even incorporates LiDAR (light detection and ranging), a remote sensing technology, similar to what is being developed for self-driving vehicles, that measures the range and distance between objects by using a pulsed laser.

“Any robot vacuum owner from before 2020 would likely complain about having to empty the unit’s dustbin too frequently. But by the end of 2021, all major manufacturers were offering self-emptying robots,” notes McAndrew. “When a self-emptying robot returns to its dock after a cleaning run, the dock opens a port on the robot and sucks the debris from its dustbin automatically.”

He says he’s also impressed by improved navigation and obstacle avoidance technology built into some of the latest units, which helps a robotic vacuum avoid things like pet waste. Most have sensors to help them avoid falling off a cliff (such as at the top of the staircase), too. And some models can even store mapped layouts of multiple floors, although you’ll still have to manually carry the robot up and down any stairs.

All of these features sound snazzy and helpful, but do you truly need a robotic vacuum cleaner?

They’re worth it, the experts concur, if you want to keep your floors consistently cleaner without having to log out a broom, dustpan, or manual vacuum cleaner and you lack the time and motivation to perform this upkeep regularly.

“One of the key reasons to invest in this cutting-edge technology is because it’s beneficial to people with limited mobility,” says Ted Mosby, a professional reviewer of consumer products in New Jersey. “While you rest in the luxury of your clean and fresh house, your floors can be cleaned in a flash. You can also control your unit using a smartphone and Wi-Fi connection, so while attending a business meeting or sipping iced coffee by the pool you can clean your home remotely with the push of a button.”

Prices on these products have come down over the years; a starter unit can be had for just under $200, according to McAndrew, while better models have a price tag of $400 and up.

“A technologically advanced robot with high suction, obstacle avoidance, and a self-emptying bin can cost between $600 to just under $1,000,” he adds.

That equates to as high as five times more than an old-fashioned vacuum cleaner, cautions Mosby. But though the cost of this convenience is high, these robots are appreciated by consumers who seek shortcuts in their increasingly busy lives.

On the downside, don’t expect this futuristic appliance to last forever. A good robot vacuum should provide around three years of fairly reliable service, so long as you properly maintain it.

“The most common upkeep, beyond emptying the robot and cleaning its filter, involves maintaining the main brush roll, spinning side brushes, and wheels. All three are susceptible to getting longer hair wrapped around them and small objects sometimes lodged within,” McAndrew says.

Also, have realistic about what these gadgets can and cannot do.

“Robot vacuums are excellent for maintaining a clean home. But they are not up to the task of taking over all the vacuuming, sweeping, or mopping duties in a home,” continues McAndrew. “There is no model that can do the deep cleaning a corded upright vacuum can.”

When shopping for a robot vacuum, look to reputable and establish models like iRobot (Roomba), ECOVACS, Shark IQ, Roborock, and Eufy.