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Can Roomba clean in the dark? Yes, I checked it out

While writing this text, my neighbors may have suffered. I'm sorry to them, but what is not being done for the sake of science! For example, I decided to clean my apartment after dark. More specifically, outsource this task to your Roomba robot.

In Spider's Web I regularly write about cleaning robots. I mainly focus on the iRobot models and there are several reasons for that. First of all, I want to write for the widest possible audience, and Roomba are the most popular devices of this type. Secondly, I have owned many iRobot models myself and am happy with them.

However, I understand that many people may have doubts about the category of cleaning robots. Once we decide to purchase such equipment, we have a choice of many models which, although at first glance, work similarly, are fundamentally different from each other.

A perfect example here will be the Chinese Roborock robots, as well as iRobot equipment.

At first glance, they work similarly. I can see it in my mother, who currently has two appliances, one for each floor of the house: Roborocka S50 and Roomba 975. Both can map rooms, so they clean systematically and effectively, but they achieve this effect in two different ways. The Chinese use a laser for this purpose, and Roomba a camera.

I am a fan of the latter solution myself. Overall, the laser is doing really well, but sometimes it's not. The laser simply sees (or not, but more on that in a moment) certain barriers and tries to get very close to them without touching them. It looks really nice as the robot doesn't bump against the furniture at all. Sometimes, however, this solution works too well, which I experienced both in my apartment and in my family home.

This is how the laser (LiDAR) works in Roborock robots. It just detects obstacles.

Well, robots equipped with laser navigation treat more massive curtains as walls. I myself have two such curtains in my living room (you see them often in the background on Spider's Web TV movies), so when I used the Xiaomi vacuum cleaner, the space behind them was not cleaned at all. It was just dust that hadn't been touched by anything.

Another problem is ... high-height mirrors, which are often elements of sliding doors. Again, I have such a door both in my own apartment and with my parents. Chinese robots projecting a laser beam sometimes do not treat them as obstacles, so sometimes they enter them with full force, which is asking for a tragedy. In the end, I was forced to give up Chinese robots myself, and my mother put her Xiaomi on the floor, where there are no such mirrors or they are separated from the rest of the space with high slats.

The biggest disadvantage of iRobot navigation is cleaning in the dark.

When I compare Chinese and American robot models in Spider's Web, I often read in the comments that Roomba do not clean well in the dark. The reason for this is to be a navigation system using a camera. This one is supposed to work badly in poor lighting conditions. The iRobot itself claims that one lux is enough for cleaning, but paper will accept anything. I decided to check it in practice.

And anyway, I myself find the argument about poor cleaning in the dark absurd, because I do not think running a cleaning robot at night is a good idea. Most people sleep at night, including my household members and neighbors. On the other hand, cleaning robots, regardless of the manufacturer, although quieter than an ordinary vacuum cleaner, remain clearly audible. And it is not without reason that they have functions such as scheduling and the ability to run them using the application. Thanks to this, they can clean apartments and houses during the day in our absence, when they do not disturb anyone.

iRobot Genius Roomba artificial intelligence application
The iRobot 900 series and later models use an upward angled camera for mapping.

However, the word was spoken, so I waited until 23:00, turned off the lights and ... let Roomba go. Once again, I apologize to my neighbors and my fiancée for this, but someone on the Internet wrote that I was wrong, you understand.

The trial went surprisingly well. I have to admit that Roomba cleaned 20-25% longer than usual, probably because it had to scan its surroundings more carefully. Nevertheless, she finally cleaned the entire apartment. She had the biggest problems in the bedroom when she drove under the bed, she rode under it for a really long time, but in the end she came out of this attempt unscathed (or with a side brush).

Roomba cleaned in such conditions. Only Huawei P40 Pro coped with taking a photo in such conditions.

Then I did an additional test because I suspected Roomba might have cleaned the entire apartment using sensors other than the camera. That's why I chose one room in the iRobot app, then told Roomba to go to it, clean it up and go back to the docking station. She also managed to pass this test without fail.

And so the results of this test lasting over an hour were described in two paragraphs.

What is the result of this experiment?

First, I have patient neighbors.

Second, Roomba is able to clean at night in normal living conditions. Probably if it was closed in a fully darkened room without any window, the vacuum cleaner would rely on older solutions and drive like a model without a camera and mapping technology, i.e. like the cheaper Roomba 600 series.

Capturing a riding Roomba in such conditions was not easy. This is the best picture I've ever taken.

Both mapping technologies are good, but I think the camera is the winner in the camera versus laser battle. Simply in combination with proximity sensors it provides full surface coverage. In the case of lasers, as I mentioned, there are obstacles that often occur in apartments and have a negative effect on the cleaning process. And it is not able to jump over them in all lighting conditions, including the good ones.

I myself would not choose the Xiaomi robot by the high mirrors and thick curtains I mentioned before, but not everyone can have similar obstacles in their home. Therefore, when buying a robot, it is worth taking into account not only its quality, opinions on the Internet and the availability of parts, but also (or perhaps above all) the conditions in the apartment and the matching of a specific model to them. This way you will choose the equipment you will be satisfied with.

Can Roomba clean in the dark? Yes, I checked it out


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