How Robot Vacuum Cleaners Navigate?

(Last Updated On: March 1, 2018)

How Robot Vacuum Cleaners Navigate?Indeed, the navigation technology is a critical aspect to consider when shopping for robot vacuum cleaners. This is in light of the fact that, unlike your traditional vacuum cleaners, they operate autonomously. Yes, they move around your house by themselves so you don’t have to tell them how to navigate around, they know.

It is imperative to note that these robots are not invincible; they get stuck sometimes or even fall off the stairs. But then, there is a big difference in their precision and accuracy. There are brands that adopt high-tech navigation technologies while some are still behind. If you have a large apartment or rooms with a lot of household stuff, then you will want to read along to the end.

I have sampled some of the top navigation technologies in the market and right about now, we are going to see what each offers.

iRobot’s iAdapt

The Roomba’s iAdapt system moves all conversations around robot vacuum cleaners. Of all the robot vacuums I’ve used or tested, it’s only Dyson that has given iRobot a run for its money for having visual localization.

Remember, iRobot released the latest version of iAdapt in the 900 series so now, we have two iAdapt navigation technologies; v1.0 and v2.0.

iRobot’s iAdaptThe Roomba Original was released with iAdapt 1.0 which was a big hit at that time. As the series progressed, there were a few tweaks that kept making the system more efficient. For example, while the 500 series often collided with obstacles at maximum speeds, you will realize that in the 600 series going forward, at least the robot slows down thus minimizing impact.

iAdapt navigation system employs a range of techniques to ensure it does its job right. Upon close inspection. You will notice there is a set of 4 sensors on the lower half of the Roomba. The first thing it does is to send an infrared signal to all the walls. From the data it collects on the time the signal bounces back to the receiver, it will have mapped the house ready for cleaning. There’s also a wall sensor on its right that detects walls or anything similar to a wall. This sensor is important as it allows the Roomba to follow the wall paths without touching them. Another notable thing is the drop off sensors; Roombas won’t fall down the stairs. The 4 sensors on the bumper constantly send infrared sensors on the floor surface and expect them to bounce back immediately. In the event the signal is not bounced back, the Roomba raises the red flag and avoids that direction.

iRobot also included mechanical obstacle sensors located on the bumper. If you are keen, the front bumper of the Roomba is retractable when you push it inside. When it hits an obstacle, the bumper activates the obstacle sensors and that’s how it knows of the current situation. It will then back off and find another route.

In the latest version, iAdapt 2.0, the traditional sensors are still intact and perform just the same fashion as iAdapt 1.0. However, the new software upgrade definitely boosts its performance. What makes this new system phenomenal is the camera visualization. Besides the tracking sensors, it now packs extra sensors for vision localization and a low res camera inclined at 45 ° on the top. The camera takes images of your house noting special landmarks like a sofa, table, carpets and so on. This data, combined with the localization sensor tells the robot where it is, where it is from, where to go next and which route to take.

Also, note that in some models, we have Dirt Detect and Virtual Walls. These two are important components of iAdapt. Dirt Detect uses optical and acoustic sensors in conjunction with s to detect where there is more dirt for a more concentrated cleaning. On the other hand, Virtual Walls sets boundaries where the Roomba can’t cross using infrared sensors that are read by iAdapt.

Even though iAdapt is an industry leader, it is not invincible. First, the older models are not that accurate and will get stuck from time to time. Also, these models are kind of stupid; the likes of 500 and some select 600 series will make irregular turns or even use nonsensical routes when cleaning.

The good thing is that with the software upgrades, it gets better. Another thing, in this era of hacking and cyber-attacks, the security of your home may be in compromise. It’s easy for your Roomba to be hacked but obviously, this is rare. There have also been rumors of iRobot sharing your maps with 3rd parties; allegations Colin Angle, iRobot’s CEO refuted. I am a very cautious character especially with anything with a camera and Smart connectivity that’s why I chose to remain with my Roomba 890; it is affordable and just as efficient as the 900 series. However, if the 960 or 980 would have a function that disables camera visualization, I would be in!

Neato’s LaserSmart Mapping & Navigatione

Neato’s LaserSmart Mapping & NavigationeNeato Robotics is another important player in this market and features in this article today courtesy of the revolutionary LaserSmart technology. Neato used its Patented 360 ° scanning technology that keeps updating the robot on its location.

It does this by sending infrared signals to the walls and the uses the bounced back signal to tabulate its location. If you have a large apartment, I would recommend a Neato vacuum like the BotVac Connected; it cleans 4 times faster than what your averag cleaner like Pyle PureClean or ILIFE V3s will do.

The aim of the full-time localization is to help it make informed decisions on methodical cleaning. Whole other ordinary vacs just use a random pattern, LaserSmart’s 360 ° localization ensures the room is mapped and the robot uses well-defined patterns. Nothing sucks like a vac that misses out most spots because of random cleaning. On the left and right, there are dedicated anti-drop sensors that help it avoid stairs.

Also, we have obstacle detection which is activated when the light-touch bumper gets some pressure. In as much as this navigation system may be inferior to iAdapt 2.0, it stands out in low-lit environments. While the 980 may fumble a little bit in a dark room, BotVac Connected will move without a problem in the same conditions. This is because the low res camera will not be feeding the system clear images.

On the downside, you will quite often find your hitting short obstacles. I think the sensors tend to focus on tall stuff; anything less than 4 inches is at times missed out. Also, it is not as intelligent as iAdapt and keeps getting stuck in high traffic rooms.

iLIFE Advanced Sensors

iLIFE Advanced SensorsThis is among the areas where iLIFE greatly drops points. If you have a high traffic room, ILIFE should be the last resort. High traffic rooms want a precise and accurate navigation system so Roomba 980, or ECOVACS R95 will be a great choice.

This brand has no elaborate navigation sensors; it just combines a set of anti-drop and obstacle detection sensors. But then. The chemistry is what’s most important and surprisingly, that’s where it is malnourished. I have had is not so good. Typically, there are anti-collision sensors which when the bumper hits something, they are activated and the robot finds a different path. Unfortunately, it’s most likely to hit the same obstacle again and again! There are also cliff sensors under it which just work perfectly except on thick and dark colored carpet. It tends to register the transitions as cliffs may be because of the large wheels. I thought this was a bug until I tested it again and again and found the same problem. The A4s, V3s, V5s, V7s, and A6 are some of the vacs with this navigation technology.

While the wheels can go just anywhere, the mapping spoils the show. An ILIFE robot can stupidly take a very long route just to avoid an obstacle. Cleaning is also random; it might start from one corner and seem to lose focus and shift to an entirely different area. I, however, found a simple hack; remove excess clutter on the floor and it will do a fantastic job.

ECOVACS’ Smart Motion

ECOVACS’ Smart MotionThe Deebot N78 being Amazon’s bestselling robot vacuum, it would be unfair if we don’t look at ECOVACS’ navigation technologies.

Smart Motion navigation technology happens to be the tech used in Deebot N78 and also the Deebot N79. Apart from Roomba, ECOVACS is the other brand that I love when it comes to navigation precision. In Smart Motion, anti-collision sensors and anti-drop sensors are well managed by the intelligent system to make sure the robot maps and cleans your house in a fashioned pattern.

The working mechanism is just the standard one; infrared sensors bounce back off the walls and from this data, it knows where it is, where it has cleaned and where it has not reached. I’ll also have to mention the light bumper that helps absorb shock and most importantly, it prevents damage your households.

Overall, I find this navigation system that iAdapt in old models like the 650 and 700 series. I have used it in my apartment and if you count the number of times it gets stuck compared to the Roomba 650, the N78 and N79 are better deals in light of their affordability and most importantly, the Deebot N78’s mop function.

My only problem with this system is in high-traffic rooms; it is not invincible and will still get stuck from time to time.

Dyson’s 360 Camera Vision System

Dyson’s 360 Camera Vision SystemLike earlier mentioned, Dyson is the other robot vacuum cleaner that has a real-time navigation camera. This camera pops out of the glass dome at the top and can rotate 360 °. This is unlike the Roomba’s which is a front-facing low res camera. Remember, this is the primary navigation sensor. When working, Dyson takes videos of its surrounding and triangulates its position by looking at its proximity to the different landmarks it recognizes. Besides, it also has IR sensors that help it detect and avoid obstacles.

On the downside, the fact that this vacuum cleaner is Wi-Fi connected makes the data it collects vulnerable. Here again, I wish the camera visualization could be disabled. That way, I would be more comfortable having this little helper in my house; a helper that doesn’t spy on me. However, the manufacturer confirmed that no data leaves the unit!

Samsung’s Visionary Mapping Plus & FullView Sensors

Samsung’s Visionary Mapping Plus & FullView SensorsSamsung also uses real-time cameras in some of their robot vacuums. One of them is the VR9000 that costs cheaper than the Roomba 980 and Dyson 360 Eye but offers quite a range of top-notch features.

The only problem is that Samsung is not a household name as it is when it comes to electronics. Visionary Mapping Plus employs a set of 10 sensors and a digital camera. These sensors use just the same principle as the rest of the vacuum cleaners and combine the data with real-time imaging for a more precise navigation system and most importantly, methodical and patterned cleaning.

I must commend Samsung for perfecting their navigation system. It really avoided obstacles and went around chair legs and other hard to reach areas of the floor. You can compare this system to the Roomba’s iAdapt 2.0 and also Dyson’s 360 ° navigation. I also liked the fact that it has Point Cleaning; a feature that lets you point dirty areas and the robot will head there fast. Just like the Roomba and select ECOVACS models, it also has boundary-marking that uses infrared sensors to mark where you feel the bot shouldn’t reach.

But again, this system has disappointed especially on carpets and also the floor-carpet edges. On dark carpets, it seems to detect a cliff and quickly retreats. This is also the case on the carpet-floor edges; it detects some sort of drop so it goes back. A quick workaround will be to place it on the floor; something that really sucks!

What’s the Best Navigation System?

If you have a large apartment with many household stuff, it is imperative that you go for the best navigation system. We want to find out what’s the best navigation system.

My choice for the best navigation system is iAdapt 2.0 based on the tests we have done as well as the overall atmosphere in most online reviews. The VSLAM navigation sees just the same way you do. At least you won’t have to worry about getting a half cleaned house because your bot got stuck somewhere. However, the thought of the Roomba 980 sharing your house maps is a real scare. But if you are keen on saving your back, that should not be a distractor.

But again, the Roomba 900 series is quite expensive and so are the other vacuums that have real-time imaging like Dyson and Samsung POWERbot VR9000. If you have a high traffic room and you are on a tight budget, you can also consider ECOVACS’ Smart Motion. The sensors are quite accurate and won’t get stuck like other vacs. Considering the N78 and N79 all cost under $250, they should be a great substitute to the pricey Roomba 980, Dyson 360 Eye and ECOVACS R95. However, note that Smart Motion may not be as accurate as iAdapt 2.0.

Wrap Up

The navigation system is an important consideration when shopping for a robot vacuum cleaner. This is especially when you have a crowded house with a lot of clutter. Nothing sucks than coming back only to find your robot stuck somewhere. So, in as much as you want Wi-Fi, voice control, and other fancy features, think about your home’s layout; will it manage the traffic?

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