Miscellaneous Robotics Technology

iRobot’s Roomba 530 – Is It Worth It?

June 25, 2010

Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want a robot vacuum? With the exception of a few technology fearing folks out there, almost everyone would love to have one of these cruising their floors while they’re at work every day. So that brings the most important question, are they worth the cost?

After years of drooling over iRobot’s line of diligent robots I finally broke down and purchased one. Every now and then I’d get the itch and start looking for deals, but it always seemed that the entry level models just weren’t worth the cash and would want me hungering for more while the more sophisticated models were well out of my price range. Today I happened to notice that the Roomba 560S, which was normally $399, was 25% off giving it a sticker price of $299. Of all the stores it could have been at it was one I would have least suspected, Canadian Tire. So I dug through my glove box and dresser drawers for an hour and managed to scrounge up over $30 in Canadian Tire money. With most of the bills being 5 or 10 cents I had quite the bulge in my back pocket as I ran excitedly into the store. After holding up the line for 20 minutes while the girl at the counter tried to count the bills I was finally on my way home with a Roomba in hand.

First Look

The entire package was surprisingly small, about the size you’d expect a 17″ LCD monitor to come in and had a convenient carrying strap. After cutting away a small plastic sticker which sealed the box, I opened it and found that everything was snug in its own little cardboard tray. After pulling each piece out and and unwrapping them I took a look at the Quick Start Guide I pulled out the battery tab and it booted up with a welcoming chime. The charging station was just as easy to set up, I simply plugged it in and tucked the excess wiring away.

Eager to start vacuuming (for the first time in my life) I looked at the last part of the Quick Start Guide which informed me that I had to charge it overnight before it’s first use. How disappointing…

The Next Day

I’ll have to admit, that was the first day at work I’ve spent the day thinking excitedly about going home to vacuum. After I got home I moved some things around; I picked some clothes off the floor and hid some wires. With a quick press of the button Roomba was off to do his work. After letting him bump around my office for about 30 minutes he returned to his charging station and went to sleep. I was a bit confused at first because the battery appeared to be charged, as indicated by a green light, but after pressing a button on the back the storage compartment opened and it was packed with cat hair and a good layer of what looked like dryer lint. Of course there were a few other surprises floating around in there, such as some cardboard bits my cat had chewed off a box, a twist tie and one of my guitar pics. After quickly pulling it all out into the garbage I popped the storage compartment back in and carried it out to the kitchen where I started it up again.

The kitchen is my only tiled floor in the apartment, everything else is carpeted, so I was curious to see the difference from the carpeted office. This room was much larger but more oddly shaped, but it navigated around quite well and even made its way into the pantry and cleaned that area up a bit too before moving on to the kitchen again. By this point the initial excitement had worn off and I stopped following it around and let it do its thing. Each time I checked on it the place looked noticeably cleaner and I was surprised at how it had even found it’s way into my tiny bathroom and managed to suck up some dirt and fluff there as well.

I had not intended for it to makes it’s way into the bathroom, nor did I think it could open the door to my bedroom where it also insisted on cleaning. Since I had moved some chairs into there it ended up being quite the bumpy ride, but Foxtrot (yes, I had already named it by this point) did a good clean and found it’s way back out into the kitchen. Thankfully I had at picked up all my clothes and tossed them on the bed before I let the little monster out for a run. At this point the dustpan and filter needed cleaning again so I quickly emptied it into the garbage and let it go back to work on the kitchen.

While Foxtrot was banging around the kitchen I had my dinner underway and was back and forth doing stuff on the computer. It found it’s way into the office again and touched it up a bit, so I shuffled some things around in there so that it could clean out the closet and around the doorway some more (the only place it seemed to leave visible debris). Eventually it finished up there and went into the kitchen again. Since the kitchen is twice the size of either of the rooms it needed every bit of attention it could. It picked up dirt, kitty litter that had found its way everywhere, food bits, and lots more cat hair. Eventually the battery on it died and it let out a chime letting me know I needed to take it to the charger. I was a little frustrated at first because it didn’t seem to make an attempt to go back to the docking station like when the bin filled, but I couldn’t put too much blame on it since I did have the office door closed at that point and there was no way it could get in there — though I would’ve appreciated a 10 min warning so I’d know to open the door up.

I picked it up and moved it into the office, set it on the floor and hit the button to send it to dock, but it didn’t. It just reminded me it needed charging and shut off again. Since it had been at it over an hour and a half at this point I figured the battery was good and dead, so I let it charge for the night.

Cleaning the Roomba

On top of the semi frequent bin emptying I knew I had to do a good cleaning of the brushes and filter after every heavy cleaning. So I pulled out the bin and flipped the little robot over. There were two green release tabs that were begging to be released so I did just that and a compartment opened revealing the two brush cylinders. There was a good amount of hair and even some twine wrapped around them, but after about 30 seconds on each I pulled it all away and tossed it into the garbage. Reinserting the brushes was easier than expected, on one end was a square peg and the other just fell into a grove, then the whole section snapped closed again. It was obvious they had spent a lot of time designing this section so that it could easily be taken apart over and over again for servicing. I was quite happy that I didn’t even have to bust out the manual to clean it out, though I admit I’m still a little unsure of how this brush cleaning tool is supposed to work.

A Few Tips

The Roomba seems to be a great little dirt devil but it’s certainly one of those things that isn’t meant for every task. Here are a few initial observations I made during it’s first night of duty:

  • Tuck away any wires that are dangling about or else it will run away with them
  • Check it’s dust bin regularly, it can fill up in 20 or 30 min if your place is fairly dirty. It seems to clean much better when the bin is empty too
  • Get a model with the virtual walls, I didn’t think I’d need them so it wasn’t a selling feature for me, but I was definitely wishing I had some batteries once the Roomba started getting into places I’d intended for it to stay clear of
  • Keep in mind you’ll need to check up on it every now and then and move some furniture out of the way if necessary


Though the Roomba does a good job, it will not get every piece of dirt off the ground. It will make several passes over each area and spend some extra time on some spots where it’s extra dirty, yet it seems to completely miss some other spots. Just keep in mind you can always press the button again tomorrow and it will continue to touch up your place night by night without so much as a complaint.

The Roomba is designed to be used frequently, it’s NiMH battery requires that it be charged at all times and does not build up a memory if you don’t run the battery down completely each charge cycle. In fact, you should never let your battery completely die, and under no circumstances should you let it sit for an extended period of time without a charge in the battery. So use the Roomba as often as possible, and always leave it docked at the station trickle charging when not in use and the battery should last a long time. However, time will tell how this unit fares for me, expect an update sometime in the future.

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  1. Great blog! I have 2 Roombas, one of which I’ve had for almost 5 years. I love them and couldn’t imagine being without one!
    Just a note, since the Roomba ‘sees’ the Home Base using Infrared technology, there’s no way that it could have found the Home Base in your office when it was running in the kitchen, since it couldn’t ‘see’ the IR beam. If you want the robot to be able to navigate from room to room, you would need to purchase a model with the Virtual Wall Lighthouses.
    Because the robot spent time searching around for the Home Base and didn’t find it, it ended up with a dead battery – at this point too dead to be able to even manually Dock.
    If you run the Roomba a few times a week with regular maintenance, you should see improvement so that you don’t have to empty the bin during cleaning cycles.

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