[Review] Roomba Discovery SE


As promised...
I got the Roomba Discovery SE for Xmas 04 and have played with it some. As a vacuum it does a decent job but the main advantage is that it can vacuum daily and you don't have to be around. What I mean by that is that it takes much longer to actually vacuum a room than a person with a vacuum would but you are using a machine's time and not yours. The fact that I can run it daily or nightly more than makes up for any power it may lack over a 'regular' vacuum.

One of the original Roomba complaints was that the dust bin was too small. This one is still small when compared to a regular vacuum but has been plenty large enough in my use so far. The first time through each room the dust bin got completely full but each pass after that has filled the dust bin less and less. Eventually it would probably get to the point of not needing to empty it daily but I think it is a good idea because I'm sure it would cause problems for it to overflow.

The floor that I am using it on consists of a living room (18x14), dining room (12x11), kitchen (10x14), hall (3.5x23), three bedrooms (only using Roomba on two they are 12x11 and 15x16) and two bathrooms. The home base is in the kitchen since it has a door into each arbitrary ‘half’ of the floor. The first half is living room, dining room, and kitchen. The second half is kitchen, hallway, bedroom, and master bedroom. The kitchen is in both halves but that is just the way it was easiest to place the virtual walls and I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to really keep the kitchen clean anyway. One of the bedrooms is my office and I haven’t dared send the Roomba in there with all the cables and clutter I have in there. It doesn’t seem to like semi fluffy bathroom rugs so I keep the bathroom doors closed. Although at times I do pick the rugs up and leave the doors open since it has no problem with the vinyl floors or the transition from carpet to vinyl.

My routine is to set a virtual wall so that the floor is bisected as described and turn the Roomba on at night to do the living room half. I set it on Max and it goes until it is almost out of charge and then finds its home base and recharges. If I just set it on clean it takes it about an hour and 20 minutes to do the same area then goes to its base. Max runs it for 120 minutes and since I can’t hear it when it runs at night I just do the Max most of the time now. So far in that half of the floor it has always been able to find its base except for one time when it got stuck on some speaker wire that I had been too lazy to hide/route so it was laying in a smallish pile in a corner. It did not ‘eat’ the wire just rode up on it and couldn’t get off the pile.

In the morning it is recharged so I turn on another virtual wall that blocks off the kitchen to dining room door and move the first vitual wall to the opposite side of the kitchen doorway to block the living room. This half of the floor also gives it access to a set of stairs which it has happily never fallen down. This session runs while I am at work and it probably finds its way back to its base 90% of the time. The master bedroom is pretty far from the kitchen wall that the home base is on so it may just get confused or not allow itself enough time to find the base, not sure but usually it does manage to get back and the times it has not it has always been found in the master bedroom.

I have done the entire floor in one session a couple of times and the Roomba does find its way into every room that isn’t closed off and when done, finds its way back to its base. The reason that I cut the floor into two sessions is simply that doing it all in one shot seems to make it more likely that the Roomba does not find its way back to the base. Since I have been running it twice a day it really hasn’t been noticeable that only half the floor is getting vacuumed at a time; the other half will be vacuumed in about 12 hours so neither ever appears to be unvacuumed.

The only problems I have had with it are:
The remote is really bad. At least mine is. You have to be standing over it and pointing the remote straight down at it and even then it doesn’t seem to get the signal 80% or more of the time. When it does ‘hear’ the remote it doesn’t seem to be able to keep the signal. If told to go forward it will go six inches then stop and wait for another command so you have to move it in fits and spurts. I haven’t had time to research this so it could just be the one I got. I have seen on other sites that people are able to ‘walk’ the Roomba to a room or back to the base. I have always given up and just picked it up and carried it. You can start the cleaning process with the remote but cannot dock it with the remote. So, if the remote worked as a remote should you could potentially use an ocelot and ir emitter to start the cleaning cycle.

It does not like fringe on rugs or the really fluffy bathmats (it does not, however, have any problem with non-fluffy rugs like the one in front of my kitchen sink).

You really do have to make sure that you pick everything up that it can ‘eat’. The first time it did my guest bedroom it went under the bed and found some loose silk flowers that my sister had stuffed under there one night when she stayed over. I didn’t look under the bed because I didn’t put anything under there but the Roomba found them and choked on them. It was a bit of a pain to get them unwrapped from around its edge brush but once I did it came back on and has worked fine so no long term damage done.

One question raised was ‘Is it as good as a regular vacuum?†That is hard to answer. If the Roomba was pitted head to head with a regular vacuum it would lose on time to finish. I can definitely vacuum a room or rooms faster than it does but as I said, I don’t have to be there while it does it. It would probably also lose on amount of dirt picked up in one session but since I can vacuum twice a day it probably would hold its own on the total amount picked up in a week since once a week is as often as I am willing to haul out the regular vacuum and clean the floors. On noise it would be a tie. Its motor is quieter than a regular vacuum but it has these quirky rattles and bangs that it does when it is rolling about and bumping into things. On coverage it does occasionally miss a spot but what it misses today it will get tomorrow so I don’t really worry about that. It doesn’t miss every time and after the first couple of times it went through the rooms I no longer notice because the floors are very clean now so missing a spot doesn’t show.

Overall I am very happy with it and do not miss hauling out the regular vacuum cleaner. It is so much easier to place the virtual walls and push the button then go do something more fun.

The remote problem did turn out to be a bad remote. iRobot replaced it under the warranty and the new one has always worked great.
The roomba itself is still going strong with no other problems. Instead of running it twice a day, morning and night, I have dropped down to running it about 4 times a week; twice in each 'half' of the house. The carpets still look cleaner than ever and I haven't felt the need to haul out the 'regular' vacuum except for the downstairs where I don't take the roomba and my office which still has too much junk scattered about for the little guy to cope with.
Question for the local Roomba expert. I know the Roomba requires line of sight to get back to base for docking. If it doesn't have line of sight with the dock, will it run around until it finds the dock or does it just give up when it's finished cleaning?
that's a great and detailed review hhnew, would you mind if I copy this thread to the reviews so it's easy to find?
Yes it does seem to be able to run around until it finds the dock when it is getting low on charge. I have caught it a few times about to run out of charge (its light flashes red when it is almost dead) and have watched it to see if it was going to die where it was or find home. It always makes me believe that it will not make it back because it just keeps heading the wrong direction and I get convinced that it will die before it gets there but somehow it heads for the dock in the nick of time and gets back there.

Thanks for the kind words, when I saw how long it was I was afraid I had gotten too wordy. Feel free to put it wherever you like.

We only have a few rooms that could be even slightly considered roomba-safe, as well as some huge open areas with irregular shapes and obstructions. I've been wondering how roomba's random-walk would deal with those? It starts with a spiral to gauge the approximate room size and then finishes with random walk, right?

I've been looking evilly at the trilobite but just can't justify the cost, even if it does map the room and go to a lot of trouble to not miss out anything that it has mapped out. Maybe the trilobite 2.0 will improve the price/performance ratio.
I just picked up a Roomba Red for $99 at Home Depot. I think they are clearing them out.

Anyway, for odd sizes and shapes of stuff, it actually does pretty good. For example, it went under the couch. Due to the leg placement, it probably took it 5 minutes to find its way back out again. But the point being it did it.

It does not seem to map anything. It's more like random movement with some logic. For example, it goes across a large space until it hits something. Then it usually turns 30 degrees or so and starts forward with a slight turn, turning sharper and sharper until it hits the same object again in a slightly different place. Then turns away from the object a bit and does the same routine again repeating until it seems convinced it has gone all the way around the object. I have watched it carefully maneuver itself rather thoroughly around my dining room table and chairs - certainly not missing much.

On the same note, I have also watched it do the same areas over and over again. As said in the review, it doesn't get it all on a particular run, but over time it will get it all. It definitely cleans in places that we have never cleaned due to difficulty (under the entertainment center for example).

Looking closely at the mechanism, I don't think it can clean nearly as deeply as my Dyson, but for daily maintenance it does a great job.

My main motivator was my wonderful dog. She has long, fine black hair. After just one day we see clumps of hair laying around. Now I have only run it once so far (got it yesterday) and after the run a fair amount of time was spent getting all the hair off the brushes. I am hoping by doing daily runs it will not have to be cleaned this way every day, but I'm guessing that it will be at a minimum of once a week. I'll let you know.

Oh, one other cool thing was watching it get caught up on a throw run. It managed to get the run all bunched up underneath it. You'd hear the motors getting stressed and it would actually stop all motors for a short time, then a few seconds later, keep working itself off. It did manage to get off and go on it's merry way.

For $100 I have to say I highly recommend. We even named the damn thing Buster! I am curious how the reliability will turn out as there have been some bad reports around the net......
May be a silly question, but I have to ask. Anyway to control its start times using home automation software? I'm using HS.
Well, here is the promised followup. The cleaning is probably twice a week for me. It involves pulling out the 2 brushes from the bottom, clipping off all the dog hair and basically pulling on the brushes until I get it all. Then I blow hard on the stair sensors, this has been enough to keep them clean enough that it doesn't fall down the stair.

Takes about 5 mintues to do the cleaning routine, and I do it while watching TV so it's no biggie.

As for starting it with HS, you'd need IR ability. I dont' have the remote yet (nor IR on my HA system) but I can't see why you couldn't start it in this way.....
IR? Now I wish I had one, I just got my IR working using my Ocelot, it would be pretty cool to automatically start the roomba! The cheapest IR interface (if you don't own any IR hardware right now) would probably be the USB-UIRT.