How Robot Vacuums Work

Robot Vacuums have been around for over 15 years and the popularity of these little helpers is at an all time high. This can be attributed to two main factors, affordability and functionality. Read on if you want to dig into just how these robot vacuums work.

Plenty of gimmicks and short-lived fads have come and gone over the years. Yet robot vacuums have avoided becoming one by providing a great service for their owners. They eliminate work.

But hold on just a second. Didn’t The Clapper eliminate work? This incredibly popular gadget eliminated the need to get up to turn lights on and off? Well, the answer is yes. Yes It did.

However, providing a function as great as this isn’t enough to outlast becoming just a fad. In order to create a full fledged market, one that includes competition among other developers, there has to be room for innovation in the technology.

Robot Vacuum Best Sellers

The clapper was, perhaps, ahead of its time. It took thirty years before the ability to rid ourselves of having to get up and turn off lights would be innovated again, now using smart phones, apps, and voice assistants.

It took thirty years to advance from using the sound waves created by clapping your hands to using Wi-Fi radio signals that work with an apps to turn bulbs and switches on and off.

How Robot Vacuums Work – Affordability

In this competition for robot vacuum market share, innovation reigns supreme. It is what drives new technologies to make smart bots even smarter and expensive bots less expensive.

Robot vacuums from companies like iRobot were, and still are, at the cutting edge of robot vacuum technology. But for most, the $600 plus investment is just too much when you have a broom and vacuum, already paid for, in the closet.

That’s why some manufacturers are designing into the budget consumer marketplace. Our Ecovacs Deebot N79s review describes how this robot vacuum is joining the best of both worlds. It is a perfect example of how affordability and functionality combine to hit a price to performance sweet spot for consumers. It not only provides good cleaning performance, a service to the owner, but also ease of use with smart phone control. All with an affordable price tag.

How Robot Vacuums Work – The Nuts and Bolts

Robot Vacuums are designed with the same five or six mechanisms. These include the wheels and motors, vacuum assembly and brushes, navigation sensors, dustbin with filters, and the power supply.

How Robot Vacuums Work - Robot Vacuum Parts

How Robot Vacuums Work – Wheels and Motors

These parts probably don’t need much of a description. Robot vacuums move around on two large wheels on each side with a nose wheel in the front. The right and left wheels have their own small motors that move the vacuum. They receive signals from sensors that tell them how to move. The more advanced the robot, the more advanced the movements.

The size and durability of the wheels determine what types of flooring the robot can cross safely. Small plastic wheels may work fine on bare floors but thicker carpets need larger wheels with treads to grip and pull the robot vacuum forward.

How Robot Vacuums Work - Wheel and Motor

The higher the wheels the greater the clearance and ability to climb over the edges on thick rugs and floor dividers. Some models even have self-adjusting wheels that keep the vacuum in close contact with the floor, regardless of the floor type, for maximum vacuuming performance.

How Robot Vacuums Work – Vacuum Assembly

The vacuum doesn’t need much of an explanation either. It’s not much different than those in upright vacuums.

The fan sucks in dirt and debris while the primary brush agitates and loosens it on the floor. From there it gets sucked into the dustbin in the back. Pretty standard vacuum stuff.

The vacuum is certainly the heaviest part of a unit and by far the loudest. But there really isn’t a big variation in vacuuming strength among different models. The higher priced units will use terms like “efficiency” and “3x the power” and “turbo” but most maintain the same relative suction strength at around 1000 Pascals.

In fact, they’re about as good as they’re going to get until someone like the next James Dyson comes along and creates a better technology.

How Robot Vacuums Work - Vacuum Intake

The biggest variations in performance are from the brush styles and the air flow from the mouth of the vacuum to the dustbin in the back. If you’ve ever had a vacuum where, as soon as you turn it off, a bunch of dirt drops out of the suction chamber back onto the carpet, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

That and the ability to dig down into carpet to agitate dirt and having a focused suction that doesn’t just blow dirt around are also very important in performance.

Robot Vacuum Brushes

Most models go with a Double-V style bristle brush for the heavy cleaning. This style seems to do a better job at scooping and agitating debris than helix brushes.

Helix Brush

Helix Brush

Double V Brush

Double V Brush

Roomba Twin Extractors

Roomba Twin Extractors

The iRobot Roombas, on the other hand, use twin extractor brushes that are bristle free and help reduce tangles. They spin inward toward each other like a printing press, catching any pet hair and debris they come into contact with.

In addition to main brushes, most robot vacuums also come with at least one spinning side brush for grabbing dust along walls and other vertical surfaces. These are normally positioned up front and fling dirt backward into the main brush.

How Robot Vacuums Work – Navigation Sensors

Almost all vacuums have standard sensors including drop sensors, proximity sensors, and optical encoders.

Drop Sensors – These sit near the nose wheel in the front and bounce infrared light at the floor. When it takes longer than normal for the light to bounce back to the receptor then it decides that there’s a drop off and will normally direct the robot vacuum to turn away.

Proximity Sensors – Also knows as Wall Sensors they do the same as Drop Sensors but in reverse. When the light bounces back sooner than normal it determines that there is an object in that direction and, depending on how smart it is and what mode it’s on, decides what to do next.

Optical Encoders – Sort of like a yard measuring wheel, the Optical Encoders (Rotary Encoders) measure the number of rotations the wheels make in order to get an idea of the distance the bot has traveled.

Yard Wheel

Apart from these standard sensors, most new innovations for robot vacuums are coming from mapping and smart features.

One of the newest technologies include robot vacuums with cameras that take digital photos to map the layout of rooms. These bots can start a methodical cleaning session, return to its dock to charge, and then go back and resume where it left off.

Robot vacuums like these are meticulous and efficient and are getting closer with every new model to replacing the upright vacuum altogether. They also come with a hefty price tag at several hundred dollars minimum.

Roomba 960 Camera Mapping

How Robot Vacuums Work – Dustbin and Filters

The dustbins do the dirty work of trapping all of your household’s daily dirt a debris. They can be anywhere in size from around a 12 oz soda can to nearly twice that large.

Most are very simple to empty but of course the smaller the size the more emptying there will be to do.

Typically all dustbins use HEPA or HEPA-style filters to keep things like pet dander and allergens from circulating back into your home’s air where sensitive noses are living.

Robot Vacuum Dustbin and Filters

How Robot Vacuums Work – Battery Power

Finally, none of this could be possible without some battery power. Maybe one day robot vacuums will work from solar power but for now they use rechargeable lithium ion batteries mostly.

The length of cleaning sessions can vary from bot to bot, lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Much of this depends on the size of the battery, the weight and strength of the vacuum, and the floor types that need to be cleaned.

Most robot vacuums will also return to dock and charge on their own when the battery gets low but their accuracy can vary greatly among models.

How Robot Vacuums Work – Last Word

Robot Vacuums appear to be here to stay and are well intended to take some of the burden of everyday cleaning off our hands. Their success will most certainly lead to other cleaning robotics like mops, window cleaners, tub cleaners, lawn robots and who knows what else.

These little helpers are quickly becoming a staple for homes. More and more people are venturing into home robotic ownership and realizing that the positive impact they make is worth the investment.