To use a robot vacuum always was difficult for pet owners. Leaving a robovac to do its thing while you’re away can be problematic if your less trained dog or cat also does its thing while you’re gone.
However, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba, claims to have resolved this scatological issue. The Roomba j7+, the company’s most recent robovac, uses built-in machine vision and AI to identify and avoid various types of pet messes.
Competing robovacs, such as the Roborock S6 MaxV and 360 Smart Life robot vacuum, claim to have the same mess-avoiding capabilities, but Angle is skeptical that they are completely reliable. He claims that iRobot has already been working on this issue for ages, even amassing a massive database of simulated pet mess to train their AI vision systems.
“Robotics is supposed to be glamorous, but I’m not sure how many Play-Doh models of poo we made,” Angle says. “Tens of thousands.” The end result, however, is unwavering faith in the company’s ability to identify poop. “Our competitors are starting to claim that they do this, too,” he says, “but it’s more like [they do it] at CES with the right lighting.” “We felt compelled to draw a line in the sand and declare that this is not a gimmick. If you have a pet, we will not disappoint you.”
The fact that avoiding dog poop is the main function of iRobot’s latest robot vacuum cleaner suggests certain issues and advancements with these robots. They have certainly become more efficient and useful over the years, but there are still some basic teething issues that manifest when the rubber meets the carpet.
iRobot hopes to address some of these issues with an update to its navigation and control software, dubbed iRobot Genius. It was first released in August of last year for compatible Roombas, and it not only maps users’ houses to allow for more granular cleaning instructions, but it also utilizes built-in machine vision to recognize furniture and designated “clean zones.”
Version 3.0 of iRobot Genius, which is now available as a free upgrade, introduces a number of new features. These include a “Quiet Drive” mode that prevents the robot from making noise while traveling to and from cleaning jobs; cleaning time estimates for specific rooms; improved mapping capabilities, such as suggested room names based on the robot’s ability to identify items of furniture; and a new “Clean While I’m Away” function. This means that if users want, they may give iRobot access to their phone’s location, so every time they leave home, the cleaning session will be started.
The most significant change, however, is reserved for the new Roomba j7+, which employs a new camera to detect not only dog litter but also potentially hazardous objects such as socks, shoes, and headphones. Again, this is accomplished through the use of onboard machine vision, but it does necessitate some activity on the side of the owner. If the Roomba encounters an unexpected impediment, it will question if it is a temporary or permanent fixture via the associated app. If it is persistent (such as dangling TV cables), the machine will create a no-clean zone for it.
As Angle says, the goal is to make iRobot’s products feel “like a partner” rather than a tool – trusted services that anticipate owners’ needs. “The idea is that we know what time it is, where we are in the house, and we have a general understanding of the floor plan in each room,” he explains. “We should begin applying respectful norms to our technology and hold it to the same types of accountability that we hold each other to at home.”
It is also how the corporation intends to distinguish itself from less expensive competitors. The new Roomba j7+ costs $849 and comes with a base station that can hold up to 60 days’ worth of dirt, which is many times the price of basic robovacs. Angle believes the iRobot’s free software upgrades, either now or in the future, will assist convince customers to pick them.
Aside from the features listed above, the new Roomba j7+ has a new high-end design, a simplified control system (three buttons instead of one), Bluetooth LE capability to simplify onboarding and a new beveled rim that is supposed to prevent the machine from getting stuck under cabinets and refrigerators. The Roomba j7+ is available for purchase now from iRobot’s website in the United States and Canada and will be available at select retailers on September 19th. It is also available for $649 without the cleaning base station.