iRobot's new Roomba 960 brings the truly autonomous vacuum (closer) to the masses

The slick camera tech of the 980 for a somewhat smaller price

iRobot has a brand new product available that might be even more exciting than its awesomely autonomous Roomba 980 … in that it's a cheaper 980. The in-home robotics firm just announced the US and Canadian availability of the Roomba 960 in the US and Canada.

iRobot's latest, near-sentient hoover has no secret weapon nor makes any surprising step movement forward in chore-skipping tech. What makes this model exciting comes down to the deal: $699 (about £529, AU$929).

For all of the same autonomous mapping and smart-charging tech within the Roomba 980 – sans its top-class Generation 3 motor and Carpet Boost feature – the Roomba 960 costs 700 bucks. (And it lasts for 50 minutes between charges, which it initiates itself.)

Baby steps, people, baby steps

Notice the lack of any adverb, like "just" or "only" attached to the price tag, because that's still a lot of money. Sure, it's not the $900 you need to score the current king of iRobot's hill. But, considering how many people have glommed onto Chromebooks as their laptop of choice these days, chances are even $700 for the same tech is going to be out of reach still for most of us.

Roomba 960

Huge kudos to iRobot, really, for a recognizing a need for and making good on a price cut this steep. But, this move signals toward an important point: this stuff is expensive to make, people.

It basically took iRobot removing its most advanced motor yet and replacing it with an older version found in the 800 series of Roombas – plus knocking the battery life down a few pegs – to bring the price down by just $200. (Surely, the adverb applies here.)

The core tech that powers these autonomous vacuums (and mops) is still not cheap to produce, but at least the more additive tech (i.e. sensors) seems to be getting more affordable.

What else do you think accounted for the surge in sensor-equipped gadgets in the past few years?

So, even if you still can't afford iRobot's smartest type of Roomba, take stock in knowing that these Jetsons-level devices are slowly (almost molasses-like) getting cheaper to make and cheaper to buy. Our cartoon-fueled dreams of robot maids and butlers everywhere are within reach!

Once we hear about UK and Australian availability and pricing, we'll update this story with that information.

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