iRobot, known best for its popular Roomba range of robot vacuums, has announced two big developments for 2022 - a large OS update and a new model with a unique retractable mopping mechanism.
This news is the first major development we’ve seen from the manufacturer since news broke in August 2022 regarding its acquisition by Amazon. iRobot is also using the moment to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of its first Roomba robot in 2002.
We spoke with Praj Dhamorikar, Senior Product Manager, about iRobot's new platform, its latest combo cleaner, and how we should think about iRobot's new owner, Amazon.
The convertible of the robot vacuum market
The splashiest announcement comes in the form of iRobot's new Roomba Combo device; the Roomba Combo j7+. The Roomba Combo j7+ will retail for $1,099 in the US, £999 in the UK, and international markets will become available throughout Q4 2022.
This isn't iRobot's first combo cleaner, but it does move the needle on cleaning technology innovation.
Featuring a cool new mop design, the Roomba Combo j7+ offers “seamless switching”, with a retractable, top-mounted mop that will automatically lift and dock when the machine moves from hard flooring to carpets or rugs, preventing wet messes. To save time, the device can also vacuum and mop at the same time.
This feature also means users won’t need to regularly lift the robot from the ground to fit the mop pads when vacuuming tasks are complete. Plus, with pad detection and tank level sensing, users simply need to look out for the notification when it’s time to refill the tank or replace the mop pad. If users can’t get to the device in time to do this before the next clean, the Roomba Combo j7+ will intelligently switch to vacuum-only mode.
In addition to this mop mechanic, users will be able to control the integrated water pump, customizing the amount of liquid and how many cleaning passes the robot will make room-by-room. The new integrated bin and tank means there's one easily accessible place to empty dirt and refill cleaning solution, and the bin uses an automatic dirt disposal system that doesn't need to be replaced for up to 60 days.
With all of these features, the Roomba Combo j7+ looks to be one of the most low-maintenance, simplistic yet sophisticated robot vacuums we’ve ever seen, packed into one sleek and compact unit. We’re interested to see how it performs on tests, so stay tuned for our review.
Smarter cleaning for a smarter home
Many Roombas will also enjoy a significant platform update, which has already begun rolling out to devices.
iRobot OS 5.0 will add to the already-extensive list of features found in the system, which includes everything from personalized suggestions to voice commands and object detection. Earlier updates added the ability to identify and dodge pet poop.
Based on the principle of “thoughtful intelligence”, the new update will, Dhamorikar explained, provide enhancements to the existing functions found in the OS, specifically for pet owners and families.
These enhancements include more detectable objects like pet toys, bowls, and litter boxes as well as family items like backpacks. This, Dhamorikar said, addresses a core challenge many homes have with robot vacuums; the floor needs to be spotless before it can even be cleaned.
Additionally, vacuums with the update will offer recommendations and improved cleaning around high-traffic areas in the home, including pet bowls and litter boxes and large appliances like stoves, dishwashers, and toilets.
iRobot OS 5.0 will also see the arrival of active room skipping, which users can activate either on the companion app or through Alexa, and the addition of more voice commands. The update will be available to new iRobot devices as well as most older models depending on the hardware. This includes the Roomba 600 series, the s9+, i3+, j7+ and m6.
The increasing intelligence of robot cleaning devices like these allows users to be more hands-off than ever. Where previously, using a robot vacuum for regular cleaning required proactive management (and a lot more tidying up to reduce obstacles), we’re fast approaching the fabled future of fully automated and self-regulating homes - at least when it comes to vacuuming and mopping.
However, news of Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot is still relatively fresh, so the announcement of its smarter, more personalized robot vacuums may throw up some red flags with consumers worried about increasingly aggressive data-driven marketing.
We asked Dhamorikar about the company’s stance on this with respect to data privacy, and she explained that users have to give “explicit consent” when using iRobot’s PrecisionVision navigation or any of the data-driven features in iRobot devices. In a press release, the company asserts that it “does not, and will not, sell consumer data.”
Dhamorikar adds: “iRobot has always been very proud about being at the forefront of making sure that consumer data is very secure and reliable, and that commitment is not going to change.”
“We will continue to provide transparency to our customers on how data is being used and our services will always remain opt-in.”
While iRobot holds the Tüv Süd CSC (opens in new tab) certification to the highest possible standard, it’s still a difficult pill for skeptical on-looking consumers to swallow.
In-home mapping brings with it as many positives as negatives, especially for the elderly or differently abled, and the kind of technology used by iRobot here could signal the beginning of the end of decades-long anticipation for the true smart home experience. As for the impact of the Amazon acquisition overall, we’ll just have to wait and see.