We crack open the Roomba 980 for a take a look at the tech that makes this cloud-connected cleaner iRobot’s most important robotic vacuum because the unique Roomba.
Over the previous decade, robotic vacuums have grown up. They’ve graduated from novelty family robots to environment friendly home equipment that suck up grime whereas autonomously navigating our properties.
iRobot is the chief on this robo-cleaning revolution. The iRobot Roomba 980, an costly mannequin launched in late 2015, sweeps in straight strains whereas navigating your property’s complete flooring and adjusting its suction energy based mostly on the floor it is cleansing — all manageable out of your smartphone by way of a cellular app. To learn the way the $900, cloud-connected Roomba 980 does all this, I broke out my instruments and cracked it open.
Editor’s notice: This story initially ran within the Spring 2016 concern of CNET Journal. We’re republishing it on TechRepublic to coincide with our cowl story, “How iRobot used information science, cloud, and DevOps to design its next-gen sensible residence robots.”
Cracking open the iRobot Roomba 980
I started my teardown by eradicating the mud bin meeting (which incorporates the suction motor) and battery. The detachable facet brush got here off subsequent, adopted by the underside cowl.
Eradicating the duvet gave me entry to a lot of the vacuum’s mechanical elements, that are a collection of self-contained compartments. I eliminated the cleansing head module first, then the left and proper wheel modules. Lastly, I eliminated the entrance caster wheel.
Eradicating the Roomba’s shifting components was simple. As soon as I reached the Roomba’s sensors and circuit boards, issues obtained trickier. I used a flat, plastic software referred to as a spudger to softly pry off the 2 plastic trim items that run alongside the shell’s higher, rear edge. Hidden below one of many trim items is a Micro USB port used on the manufacturing unit or by service heart personnel to carry out diagnostic assessments or manually improve the software program. Utilizing the identical software, I then eliminated the shiny faceplate after which the rubber collar that surrounds the brand new, forward-looking iAdapt digicam — a low-resolution digicam that helps the robotic navigate.
Subsequent, I indifferent — however could not utterly separate — the entrance bumper from the shell. A skinny wire connects the bumper’s sensors with the circuit boards inside, so I needed to first open the plastic shell by eradicating the Roomba’s deal with and a dozen screws. That gave me my first take a look at the bot’s mind.
Not like your run-of-the-mill vacuum, the Roomba 980 is full of circuit boards. The most important, referred to as the Mobility Board, comprises one of many vacuum’s microcontrollers. Stacked on prime of the Mobility Board is the t-shaped, person interface (UI) board, which homes the management button contacts, indicator LEDs and connectors for the assorted sensors. Mounted behind the Mobility and UI boards are the Digicam and Nav (navigation) boards, that are soldered collectively. Lastly, there is a small board containing the Micro USB port and a wi-fi antenna board mounted to the left, rear facet of the shell.
After disconnecting a tangle of wires and eradicating many extra screws, I eliminated all of the circuit boards. Alongside the best way, I additionally eliminated the entrance bumper sensors, cliff sensors (which detect when the ground is about to drop), mud bin sensors (which decide when the bin is full), floor-tracking sensor, and a speaker. After about 30 minutes, the Roomba teardown was full.
What the iRobot Roomba 980 teardown tells us
Consumer-repairable/modular design: Not like most of the devices I’ve cracked open, the Roomba 980 (like most Roomba fashions) is constructed for disassembly and restore. iRobot cleverly comprises the mechanical elements that endure probably the most put on (wheels, facet brush, cleansing head, and so forth) in so-called buyer replaceable modules. That manner, iRobot can ship a brand new half and stroll you thru the substitute course of if one module fails.
You will not want a field of particular instruments to make the repairs, both. I accomplished my teardown utilizing Torx T6, Phillips #1 and Phillips #2 screwdrivers, a plastic spudger for eradicating the trim items, and a flathead screwdriver for prying unfastened the extra cussed inner components.
Sensors, sensors, sensors: iRobot does not publicize the precise variety of sensors within the Roomba, however a fast depend in the course of the teardown places the entire north of 15, together with wheel odometry sensors, cliff sensors, bumper sensors, optical and acoustic grime sensors, mud bin sensors, and a brand new floor-tracking sensor plus a low-resolution digicam, which is used for navigation.
Tons of recent tech: The 980 makes use of iRobot’s new iAdapt 2.zero navigation system. The system combines the tried-and-true navigation algorithms — the foundations that inform the robotic find out how to transfer — utilized by earlier Roombas with brand-new algorithms based mostly on a technique of robotic navigation referred to as visible simultaneous localization and mapping (VSLAM). Utilizing iAdapt 2.zero, the Roomba 980 builds a map of the world because it cleans. To create the map, it makes use of the brand new floor-tracking sensor to measure the gap and course it travels (very like an optical pc mouse measures its motion throughout your desk). The Roomba then combines the ground sensor info with information from its wheel odometry sensors and bump sensors to finish the map. Lastly, it provides particulars to the map by utilizing information from different sensors, such because the cliff sensors (to detect dropoffs) and IR sensors (to detect the docking station or digital partitions). The Roomba then makes use of the digicam to create waypoints (usually akin to the sides of objects within the room) that the robotic makes use of to localize its place on the map.
The brand new system permits the Roomba 980 to scrub a whole flooring of your property as an alternative of simply single rooms just like the older fashions did. The robotic creates a brand new map every time it begins a cleansing cycle, simply in case you’ve got moved the kitchen chairs or purchased a brand new sofa. If the Roomba should return to the bottom station and recharge in the course of the cycle, it would maintain the map in reminiscence for as much as 90 minutes and resume cleansing the place it left off.
To make the iAdapt 2.zero system work, iRobot engineers needed to considerably improve the Roomba 980’s and software program. In contrast with the Roomba 880, the 980 has 100 instances the strains of code and extra processing energy, plus a brand new floor-tracking sensor that measures the gap and course it is traveled whereas conserving the robotic in a straight line. The brand new low-resolution digicam helps the Roomba decide its place on the map, and the 980’s Wi-Fi lets it hook up with the cloud and permits house owners to handle their Roomba with the iRobot Dwelling app (accessible on Android and iOS).
Evolutionary leap for Roomba
The 980 is a large leap ahead within the Roomba’s evolution, and it is no surprise iRobot made these modifications now. There’s much more competitors within the robotic vacuum market than there was 10 years in the past. We praised the brand new tech in our CNET overview, however present in our testing that the 980’s efficiency did not match its sweepingly excessive worth.
The Neato Botvac Related gives related options because the Roomba 980, prices $200 much less, and earned CNET’s Editors’ Selection Award. The Samsung PowerBot VR9000 additionally prices $200 lower than the 980, however it lacks Wi-Fi and did not clear elegantly in our CNET testing.
Robotic vacuums might not be important residence home equipment, however they’re undoubtedly extra than simply toys for techies. The Roomba 980 is a wonderful instance of how a lot these bots have developed prior to now decade and an indicator of how the know-how will advance within the subsequent.