AI News, iRobot Brings Visual Mapping and Navigation to the Roomba 980
- On Sunday, February 11, 2018
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iRobot Brings Visual Mapping and Navigation to the Roomba 980
Today, iRobot is announcing the Roomba 980, which manages to cram everything new and amazing that we’ve been hoping for into one round little robot: Wi-Fi communication, remote control with a smartphoneapp, and (most importantly) VSLAM that allows the robot to navigate and vacuum larger spaces than before in satisfyingly straight lines.
You can connect the Roomba 980 to your home Wi-Fi network, and then download the iRobot Home app for iPhone or Android, which will allow you to set a cleaning schedule much more easily than through the buttons on top of the robot (iRobot research showed that many consumers found the scheduling functions too difficult to use,much like with the old VCRs).
It also looks like there may be some new enhanced virtual walls that can provide area denial capability to keep the robot from running into pet food and water dishes and other things that you keep on the floor but don’t want tackled by a robot.
To create a map, the camera takes a picture, and then some fancy softwarelooksfor distinctive patterns of pixels in that picture: In this example, the VSLAM algorithm has picked out a bunch of features on a couch (corners of things are very distinctive), and the robot will remember what those features look like and keep track of them as it moves.
“Now we can create digital representations of what a home looks like so our robots can be smarter.” As far as VSLAM algorithms go, the Roomba has to be a little bit clever, because it frequently finds itself under tables and couches and beds, where tracking “features” in the environment gets harder.
This solves a significant limitation of the traditional Roomba, whose pseudorandom navigation meant it couldn’t clean more than three rooms (the robot was able to go back to the charger, but because it didn’t have a map, it didn’t know how to resume where it had stopped).
While straight lines and efficiency is great, it’s worth mentioning that every time we’ve asked iRobot to compare the Roomba to robot vacuums that do this exact sort of “intelligent” single-pass cleaning, they’ve maintained that their pseudorandom approach results in multiple passes from multiple directions and that means a cleaner floor, especially on carpet.
Perhaps to address this issue, the clever engineers at iRobot programmed the980 to “automatically increase the performance of the motor on carpet and rugs.” Indeed, you can audibly notice the robot boosting its suction when it detectsa felted surface (using a combination of optical and acoustic sensors, we were told),but we’ll have to see what the cleaning is really like in practice.
Your Roomba May Be Mapping Your Home, Collecting Data That Could Be Shared
But iRobot disputed that account, saying in a statement on Tuesday: “We have not formed any plans to sell data.” Reuters issued a correction, saying Mr. Angle was hoping to share the maps free with customer consent, not sell them.
“When we think about ‘what is supposed to happen’ when I enter a room, everything depends on the room at a foundational level knowing what is in it,” an iRobot spokesman said in a written response to questions.
Same thing for music, TV, heat, blinds, the stove, coffee machines, fans, gaming consoles, smart picture frames or robot pets.” But the data, if shared, could also be a windfall for marketers, and the implications are easy to imagine.
Jamie Lee Williams, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said information about the size of a home and the amount of furniture in it could allow advertisers to deduce the owner’s income level.
What happens if a Roomba user consents to the data collection and later sells his or her home — especially furnished — and now the buyers of the data have a map of a home that belongs to someone who didn’t consent, Mr. Gidari asked.
“It’s the one where it bumps into all the toys on the floor.” In its written response, iRobot said that it was “committed to the absolute privacy of our customer-related data.” Consumers can use a Roomba without connecting it to the internet, or “opt out of sending map data to the cloud through a switch in the mobile app.” “No data is sold to third parties,” the statement added.
iRobot Roomba 980 Review: This Expensive Robot Vacuum Sucks
The Roomba 980 is a dutiful helper around the house, but its trouble with pet hair and its high price should convince you to look elsewhere.
The name Roomba may be synonymous with robot vacuums, but that doesn't mean every model is the cream of the crop.
Like its predecessors, this device is a meticulous little helper that keeps the house spot-free, and the companion app works well.
But when you factor in its high cost — about $890 on Amazon — and that it doesn't clean any better than the competition, you might want to go with another brand instead.
Like the rest of the Roomba family, the Roomba 980 is a circular device with black trimmings and a near-futuristic look.
The Roomba 980 is 13.9-inches across in diameter and 3.6-inches high, making it short enough to clean under my sofa, but too tall to get under my bed.
At 8.7 pounds, the Roomba 980 was sufficiently light that I could cart it up and down a flight of stairs, and it even features a built-in carrying handle.
The Roomba 980 offers three buttons on its chassis: a Home button on the left, a Clean button in the middle and a Spot Clean button on the right, which can be used to preserve power and clean only where there's mess.
You don't have to start the job from the Roomba itself, however, as there's a companion app you can use on iOS and Android to manually operate the robot and schedule when it cleans.
You can tell which mode the Roomba 980 is in by checking its indicator lights, which appear above the Clean button.
The familiar Wi-Fi logo will light up to indicate the Roomba's connection status, while a troubleshooting symbol will pop up if something's gone awry;
The battery indicator is pretty straightforward, too, and it'll pulse yellow if charging is needed, or display green when things are ready to go.
The Roomba 980's dustbin is a bit much to contend with, especially when it's overflowing with dirt.It's not very easy to empty, though, and I found the hole too small for to dump the mess out without assistance.
I had to don a pair of gloves to grab the giant dust balls and dispose of them myself.
On the bottom, the Roomba 980 features a floor-tracking sensor, two 6.2-inch rotating brushes and a spinning side brush to capture peripheral debris.
By comparison, the Samsung R7070 and Neato Botvac offer 11.2- and 11.4-inch brushes, respectively, so the 980's suction area is a bit smaller than the competition's.
An underside look at the Roomba.One neat trait of the Roomba 980 is that it utilizes VSLAM, an algorithm that helps the robot simultaneously map and track.
To create the map, the 980 snaps a picture of its locale, and then the algorithm determines its path based on the area it's mapped out and the objects placed around it.
The robot will then track those objects as it moves, but it will also continue to take pictures and actively scan them for the best route.
For instance, when you press the Clean button, the robot vacuum will sing a jingle in a sort of R2-D2 fashion, as if it's waking up from a long nap.
While all three picked up nearly 100 percent of Cheerios on both wood and carpet, the Roomba picked up only 82 percent of sawdust sprinkled on a vinyl surface, compared to 100 percent for both the Samsung and the Neato.
On carpet, the Roomba 980 left behind 58 percent of pet hair even after vacuuming over it for 18 minutes, whereas the Samsung and Neato left just 25 percent.
Even on flatter floors, the 980 left behind a significant trace of fur.
The exhaust vent on the device also caused the pet hair to fly up and out rather than into the dustbin.
The Roomba 980 is good at navigating around walls and furniture legs, and even around stray cables and lost shoes.
Though it tested at only 70 decibels at our lab, this little robot makes vacuum sounds as loud as those of an upright.
The Neato Botvac and Samsung R7070 both registered higher decibels (72 and 71, respectively), but I didn't feel like moving to another part of the house while they were cleaning.
MORE: The Best Robot Vacuums to Clean Your Pad The Roomba 980's second major flaw is that it doesn't clean well around corners or edges, because of its circular shape, regardless of whether you enable the Edge cleaning mode inside the iRobot app.
Whether it's spot cleaning or performing a sweep of the house, the Roomba 980 smoothly routes itself back to its base station and parks itself to charge up before the next cleaning.
iRobot has advertised up to 2 hours of cleaning power, and our lab test results didn't stray too far from that mark.
The iRobot app features a navigable interface with distinct menu options, including a giant Clean button in the middle of the screen.
Additional options let you choose your cleaning preferences, schedule the Roomba, see its cleaning history and figure out when it's time for actual bot maintenance, including cleaning out the debris extractors.
The Roomba 980 is manufactured by the original robot vacuum purveyors, but more competition has cropped up in this space since Roomba debuted.
This vacuum has plenty of tread to make it over the uneven parts of your house, suction that can suck up all the cat litter strewn about, and an app that is easy to use and intuitive enough that your even your technophobic relative could program this thing.
However, for $900, this vacuum performed poorly when picking up pet hair, especially compared to competitors, such as the Samsung Powerbot R7070, which costs $300 less and is our pick for the best high-end robot vacuum.
If you're going to drop nearly a thousand dollars on a robot vacuum, make sure that it picks up what's ailing you.
- On Sunday, January 20, 2019
Roomba 980 Robot Vacuum Cleans a Whole Level of Your Home
Learn more about the new Roomba 980 at
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