BOSTON – Nearly five years after rolling onto the market, the Roomba vacuum cleaner has undergone a ground-up redesign that has endowed the otherwise-brainy robot with the smarts to overcome rug tassels and electrical cords.
The fifth generation of the Roomba also has sturdier moving parts and improved durability that iRobot Corp. (IRBT) hopes will entice cleanliness fanatics who want their floors cleaned daily.
The Burlington, Mass.-based company said Wednesday its Roomba 500 series is designed to scoot around for an hour a day for three to five years. The more fragile early models sometimes met with failed motors or bad bearings after 150 hours of cleaning.
"If you really bought into the idea that this thing is here to clean every day, people ended up killing their robots," said Colin Angle, iRobot's chief executive and a company co-founder.
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Despite the dinner plate-sized Roomba's ability to transition smoothly from hard floors or low carpet to rugs, the cleaning brushes on earlier models can get stuck on tassels and cords. That means finding the wayward gadget, untangling its brushes and restarting it.
The new models have more sophisticated robot brains that instruct the brushes to briefly spin in reverse and spit out the cord or tassel. When the tangle has been averted, the brushes resume spinning forward and the cleaner continues on its way.
The Roomba now sports a more sophisticated room-navigation system to slow its approach toward obstacles for a gentler and quieter impact.
New, programmable "Virtual Wall Lighthouses" that come with the top-of-the line 560 model employ radio communications to tell the robot which interior spaces to clean and which to avoid.
The three 500 series models cost from $250 to $399 — in line with the Roombas' existing high-end versions, but above prices for basic models costing as little as $120.
The Roomba is the top-selling robotic vacuum with nearly 2 million sold.