How Does a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner Work? (A Complete Guide)

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By CleanersWithLove

Modern robotic vacuum cleaners have revolutionized how we clean our homes and business. After all, they can navigate themselves even through the trickiest obstacles. But among all this hype, you might wonder, how does a robotic vacuum cleaner work?

Most modern robot vacuum cleaners map home layouts through built-in sensors. With this, they can clean faster and more efficiently, dumping dust automatically and returning to their charging stations to recharge. They need little to no human intervention, keeping your floor squeaky clean!

This post discusses all you must know about these modern cleaning machines.

What is a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner?

robotic vacuum cleaner on top of white carpet

A robotic vacuum cleaner is a modern automatic cleaning machine, functioning as a regular vacuum and a carpet sweeper. Using some degree of AI, it cleans your floors by itself. Although some vacuums use brushes alone, many combine different cleaning features. From mopping, and wetting, to UV sterilization, they can do all these.

Although robotic vacuum cleaners have different designs, most have compact disc shapes. They run on batteries with a remote control or built-in operation panel. And most models features scheduled cleaning. You can set the vacuum cleaner for a specific time and have it automatically docked.

Their structure includes the body, rechargeable batteries, charger, docking station, and dust box. And some come with dedicated remote controllers for convenient use.

Moreover, robot vacuums use inbuilt motorized brushes to sweep and suck particles from the floors. And most models have a fan connected to a motor, suctioning and collecting debris. 

Also, many follow a chaotic pattern, but some have preprogrammed trajectories. And these models are smart enough to avoid crashing into things. Many robot vacuums are for homes, offices, hotels, malls, etc. 

How Does a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner Work?

how does a robotic vacuum cleaner work (infographic)

Robotic vacuum cleaners function like conventional models. They use various brushes to lift and collect dirt, sucking them into the dust container. Many models push the debris through a filter before reaching the container.

Aside from that, some robotic vacuum cleaners need manual emptying. Meanwhile, other models eject their content into a dust bin in their docking stations. And they clean themselves several times before needing input from you.

Most robotic vacuums have circular or disc shapes. And they ensure all particles settled against baseboards or edges get collected. These contain several smaller brushes extending over the vacuum’s circumference.

Now, for the most critical part of a robotic vacuum cleaner — the sensors. Most robotic vacuum cleaners use these when moving between rooms with various flooring—for instance, skittering across carpets or hard floors, so they don’t become stuck!

Moreover, sensors help these cleaning machines avoid hazards, moving through the best routes. And they also help the vacuumed navigate new spaces better. But even if these sensors have the same purpose, they can come in different versions.

A robotic vacuum cleaner’s sensors depend on the manufacturers, and here are the most common ones:

✔️ Wall Sensors

Wall sensors help robotic vacuum cleaners detect the walls of an environment. And these allow them to move along without bumping into them. With this, the vacuums can easily clean and collect dirt accumulated on the sides of a wall skirting.

Meanwhile, some wall sensors come with pre-programmed algorithms. These help the robotic vacuum cleaner determine the best cleaning path in any room. Aside from that, the infrared spectrum also helps in navigating through messes. As a result, the machine gets to clean floors and walls better. 

Finally, some robotic vacuum cleaners with wall sensors have mapping capabilities too. These help them go around open doorways without issues — cleaning new rooms.

✔️ Obstacle Sensors

Many robotic vacuums struggle with navigating around scattered objects in a room. Loose furniture or couch legs can disrupt the machine’s route. Hence, obstacle sensors have become a must-have for many modern robot vacuum cleaners. 

These sensors situate on the shock-absorbing bumpers of the vacuum cleaner. The sensor gets triggered when the machine bumps into things, informing it to move the other way. And since moving things can leave dust, many manufacturers made their robots take various routes to the obstacle. 

They’ve devised the idea of letting the robot vacuum bump into objects to see if they’re soft. And if they are, they program the cleaner to push through instead of avoiding that spot altogether. 

✔️ Cliff Sensors

A change in floor levels won’t only be a significant hazard for the vacuum cleaner but also your floor! After all, the robot vacuum can get stuck or damaged. Places like lofts or stairwells can be dangerous, causing damage when navigated poorly.

So, to guarantee the robotic vacuum cleaner remains on the same plane, manufacturers have placed infrared sensors underneath them. And these sensors send signals, allowing the cleaning machine to measure its distance from the floor. 

When the robotic vacuum clean receives the signal ASAP, it knows it’s on the same plane. But if it takes a while to receive the alerts, the robot will know there’s a cliff nearby. And this lets it initiate a pre-programmed protocol, changing its path to a different way.

✔️ Wheel Sensors

Robotic vacuum cleaners must know the total distance it has traveled in an area. This feature informs it if it has cleaned all the surfaces and ensured it didn’t miss any spots. You can find these light sensors on the robotic vacuum’s wheels. And this enables the cleaning machine to measure its wheel rotation. 

With this measurement, the robotic vacuum cleaner can get a more accurate estimate of the distance it has traveled.

✔️ Dirt Sensors

Some manufacturers use dirt sensors to notify their robotic vacuum cleaners of the presence of excess dirt in certain spots. These come in acoustic impact sensors, enabling the vacuum to know if it’s collecting excess dirt. 

And as the dirt forces the metal plate inside the sensors to vibrate, the vacuum cleaner will start another round of cleaning the entire area. In short, dirt sensors help these cleaning machines recognize there’s more debris to collect!

✔️ Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)/Image Mapping

Many modern robotic vacuum cleaners use robust computer detection, such as LiDAR and image mapping. These use mapping programs, providing high-range robotic vacuums with advanced features.

But since the tech’s new manufacturers have been distinctive with it. As a result, they’ve made vastly different robots with varying capabilities. 

For instance, some brands utilized onboard cameras to snap images of the whole room. And this helps the vacuum mark the location of the entire area, including the obstacles. With this, the robotic vacuum becomes more aware of the surroundings it’s cleaning. After all, it helps the machine recognize the areas and their best cleaning routes.

Regardless of the sensors, more modern robotic vacuum cleaners are becoming more convenient. Some allow users to set schedules for cleaning through apps or remote controls. These beings the cleaning process even when you’re not at home!

Pros and Cons of Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

a robotic vacuum cleaner on top of a wooden floor

If you’re struggling to decide to get a robotic vacuum cleaner, whether for your home or office, here are the upsides and downsides of owning one:

Pros of A Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

✅ Saves You a Lot of Time 

Among the significant advantages of robotic vacuum cleaners is that they save you a lot of time! With this modern cleaning machine on hand, you can spend time doing more crucial tasks, all while ensuring your floors stay clean. 

Moreover, since you can program the robotic vacuum cleaner to follow a set schedule, it shouldn’t hinder your everyday life.

✅ Cleans Underneath Heavy Furniture and Appliances

We all know cleaning can be a chore, but it can be incredibly challenging when dealing with stuff underneath! Kneeling or raising massive furniture or appliances to clean what’s under makes the entire experience more unmanageable. 

Robotic vacuum cleaners can save you from that issue as their miniature, and compact designs provide them with fantastic maneuverability. So, they should be able to suction all the dirt and debris under your beds, couches, fridges, etc. 

✅ Available for Emergency Cleaning 

Everyone’s had those days when you don’t want to clean. And this often results in leaving lousy impressions of ourselves with guests. But with a robotic vacuum cleaner, you don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself again, guaranteeing clean floors 24/7!

Cons of A Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

As valuable and innovative robotic vacuum cleaners are, even they have downsides. From complex designs to weak suctioning, here are the cons of a robotic vacuum:

❎ It’s Not 100% Hands-free

As convenient robotic vacuum cleaners are, they aren’t always hands-free. They’re not as hands-off as many assume, and they still need some human help as they can get stuck often. Aside from that, these machines also tend to get between things such as furniture or doorways. And sometimes, some can also get snagged on other items.

So, the chances of your robotic vacuum cleaner getting stuck during cleaning and needing your help are high. And there’s no need for second thoughts if you often leave your things around in your home. 

Finally, some robot vacuums also need manual intervention when they need emptying. 

❎ It’s Costly 

Robotic vacuums are pricier than your regular vacuum cleaners. After all, they need extra tech to work, including sensors, artificial intelligence, and a complex cleaning system. 

So, expect to pay between $200 and $1000 for a robotic vacuum cleaner. Aside from the upfront costs, maintaining a robot vacuum will also cost you more, thanks to its complex technology.

❎ Carpeted Surfaces are its Enemy

Although marketed as a carpet sweeper, not all robotic vacuum cleaners work well on carpeted surfaces. After all, they can’t move or glide as smoothly as with human intervention. And some models can get stuck in the carpet fabric, causing them to malfunction. 

Moreover, it can be challenging for these modern cleaning machines to differentiate between clean and dirty spots on carpets due to their fuzzy nature. 

❎ It’s Not As Functional as Conventional Vacuum Cleaners

Robotic vacuums can’t suction as much debris as your regular vacuum cleaners. After all, their small design only boasts a small intake, limiting what they can suck up per run. Moreover, depending on the shape of the area, robot vacuums can’t make it into corners as they can’t reach them well.

❎ Expect Dented Furniture, Doorways, Etc. 

Manufacturers program robotic vacuums to return after hitting obstacles. And this action can chip away paint from your furniture or doorway edges. Aside from that, repeated exposure may also dent the same items mentioned.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can a robotic vacuum cleaner work without mapping?

A: Modern robotic vacuums don’t need cameras to map their surroundings. Instead, these machines use different sensors to detect and measure their environment. And these mini vacuum cleaners can take advantage of these to check their progress and adapt. These include cliff, bump, or wall sensors. 

Q: Does a robotic vacuum cleaner truly work?

A: As tiny as they seem, robotic vacuums work and can keep most floors spotless. They’re more than mere novelty items you can show off to guests and are valuable floor-care tools. So, getting one is your best bet if you don’t have much time to clean or don’t like vacuuming.

Q: How will a robotic vacuum clean know when it’s finished?

A: Robot vacuums have built-in sensors that let them perform most activities, including knowing when to stop. It helps the machine see the direction to take when vacuuming an area and alerts it on when to halt.

Q: How often should I run my robotic vacuum cleaner?

A: It depends on how dirty and extensive your floors are. But generally, I recommend running it at least 4x to 7x weekly. And if you reside in a larger home, especially one covered in carpet, it’s best to clean more often. Also, consider adding more to your routine when you have a pet, as it can help with excess fur shedding.

Q: Do I need to connect a robotic vacuum cleaner to WiFi for it to work?

A: Not all robot vacuum cleaners need WiFi to work. And generally, you only need a connection if you want to connect the vacuum to your phone. All your robotic vacuum cleaner needs is a press of a button.

Final Words

How does a robotic vacuum cleaner work? They use built-in sensors to navigate your floors, keeping them clean 24/7. And with your new knowledge, you should be able to find the best vacuum cleaners for your space in no time. Regardless of your choice, robotic vacuum cleaners save you time and effort cleaning your floors.

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