How Does a Robot Vacuum Cleaner Work?

The best robot vacuum cleaner does exactly what a conventional vacuum cleaner does, but with a slight difference, it has ‘intelligence‘, or rather, it vacuums without any control or input from the user, apart from programming it, and it’s  smart enough to adapt to its surroundings.

All robot vacuum cleaners do the same task but some can perform better than others and some have more features than others.  Many robot cleaners can actually find and settle in their docking stations when they have finished the set task, there are also robot cleaners that can inform you by ‘speaking’ to you when the cleaning is done.

The robot vacuum is a hands-free, battery charged unit that has been engineered to find and pick up dirt and debris efficiently and independently. However, it tends to work better on hard floors. There are some on the market now that have no problem working on carpets, especially thicker carpets and they are capable of making the transition from hard flooring to low-level carpeting without any problems, though they are not able to move well between floor and plush or thick carpet.

The latest robot cleaners not only clean the house without any help but they can remember the layout of the area that needs cleaning, empty the collected dirt and then find their way back for recharging or docking. Different robot cleaners can vary in the charging time, or in how long they are able to clean when fully charged.  There are also models around today that have de-tangling abilities which can save on runtime.

Robot vacuum cleaners have come a long way since their arrival on the cleaning scene.  The modern robot vacuum cleaner is now far more ‘intelligent’ than its predecessor.  These first machines would have to be tracked down because they would get stranded around the house once the power had been used up. Whereas, the modern versions are capable of taking themselves back to the docking station to recharge.

What do Robot Vacuum Cleaners Look Like?

The robot vacuum is usually a flat circular or disc shape, which is designed so that it can go under furniture, turn easily when it gets into corners and clean around furniture legs.  The control panel is mainly situated on the top of the unit and comprises of one or two buttons, although there are models that have several buttons and some have an LCD monitor. This not only shows the status of the robot but also helps with visual feedback when programming the robot for cleaning. The units usually have a ‘full’ indicator light and some have room memory, along with a multi-room navigation system, these features give the robot vacuum cleaner that little extra over normal upright vacuum cleaners.

Most robot cleaners have a spring loaded ‘half moon’ shaped light-touch bumper on the front of the unit. The bumper is a sensor to detect and absorb any collisions with solid obstacles in its cleaning path, such as walls and furniture. Some models have an extra sensor that can detect when it has come to the edge of stairs or to a step, so it can stop and turn around.

robot vacuums

How do Robotic Vacuums Work?

Performance is important when it comes to robot cleaners. They need to have the ability to clean different surfaces and to clean on set schedules, as well as excellent operating patterns and running times. They can be upgraded with new software for more efficient cleaning programs, unlike the normal upright vacuum cleaner. Parts and accessories are easily replaced as are batteries.

The robot vacuum cleaner has a motor to generate suction and rotating brushes to sweep debris towards the suction, just like the normal vacuum cleaners.  Almost all robot cleaners use two drive wheels as well as one or more caster wheels to move them around.

They have a variety of sensors inside the machine and underneath it, which provides feedback about the environment and also to detect obstacles such as stairs or furniture in its path, these sensors will also transmit the distance traveled and the status of its electronics.

Almost all robot vacuum cleaners come with a docking station, its main feature is to charge the batteries of the robot cleaner in-between cleaning tasks. It is also where the robot sits when not in use and where it navigates back to when it has done its set task.

The docking station casts a ‘V’ shaped light beam to a distance of about 6 feet, this acts as a beacon to the cleaner, which will use it to return to have its batteries charged when they have run down, or to dock once it’s cleaning task is finished. However, the robot is programmed to steer clear if it senses the light beam during its cleaning task.

The docking station needs to be placed in an openly accessible area so that the robot cleaner can easily navigate to and from the station. (Robot cleaners without a docking station can quite simply be manually connected to the power supply for charging with the unit provided).

Robot vacuum cleaners are excellent for removing the dirt and debris from your living areas, but they don’t have peripheral vision, so there may be rare occasions where it is possible for it to ‘not see’ the dirt it is programmed to pick up.

They don’t operate beyond a 30 to 35 degree slope but as all homes have level floors, this should not be a problem They are incapable of climbing or descending stairs, or maneuvering down steps and although they are very convenient carpet and hardwood floor vacuum cleaners, they can’t match the suction and performance power of the upright vacuum cleaner, therefore, they can’t perform a regular deep cleaning of your home.

Robot vacuum_time-lapse

How Does a Robot Vacuum Navigate?

The robot vacuum cleaner navigates the cleaning area based on its set programs, so there is no need to sit around and watch it clean.  It finds its way around using a number of cleaning patterns such as circular or spiral patterns, zigzagging or crisscrossing etc.

A preferred cleaning program can be embedded into the robot’s memory by a simple button sequence; this tells the robot to leave the docking station on the set day and time to clean the home. It returns only when its cleaning task is over or if the battery runs low during the task. If the battery runs down before the cleaning task is finished, the robot will abort its task and find its way back to the docking station.

There are some robots cleaners that use an extra technology called ‘virtual wall’, which is an infra red light beam that is sent out from the unit to act as a virtual wall, once the robot senses the light signal, it changes direction to avoid that particular area.

There is also another technology on some cleaners called a ‘lighthouse’ feature, this uses the virtual wall infrared light beam along with radio frequency which is designed to allow the robot cleaner to self-position itself and to navigate itself around obstacles on its way back to the docking station.


The robot vacuum cleaner with its remote capabilities is a real benefit for people who find it difficult to use the normal vacuum cleaner, or for those who have a hectic lifestyle. It can even eliminate floor dust and allergens to help those who suffer from allergies. They are a convenient way to get the house vacuumed with little effort, giving you more time to enjoy other aspects of your life.

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