Robot Vacuum Terms Demystified

Sam Harris
written by Sam Harris
part of Robot Vacuums
created on November 18, 2019
updated on March 30, 2020

Navigation. Mapping. Clean Base. No-go lines. Room cleaning. What about these terms anyway, plus do they have any effect on the operations of a robot vacuum?

Navigation

Navigation is a robot vacuum’s ability to freely roam to give full coverage in the deployed space. Typically the movement of a robot vacuum is either dumb or intelligent.

Robot vacuums with dumb navigation

The dumb navigation robot vacuums are random in movement; in effect, they miss spots, edges, or skip rooms altogether. Their heavy action also means it isn’t a matter of if, but when, they would get themselves locked up in a place where they’ll use up all the battery juice. Not to mention bumping hard into baseboards, furniture, and small items of decorations, moving them in the process or outrightly choking on them.

In other words, a robot vacuum that operates on dumb–advertised as random/semi-random–navigation cleans without regard for its environment. As a result, cleaning is incomplete, inefficient, and stressful. The beginner robot vacuums are perfect examples of the robot vacuums with dumb navigation.

Robot vacuums with intelligent navigation

Because of their smart navigation, these robot vacuums are precise in cleaning debris anywhere they might be hiding (along walls, under cabinets, in open areas, etc.). Mapping if it helps to mention powers the intelligent navigation of a robot vacuum.

Mapping

The mapping of a feature of a robotic cleaner ensures it knows precisely where it is and where it is going. This is why a robot vacuum with the mapping function can resume cleaning at precisely the point where it left off before going to recharge or empty.
Mapping is also the reason a robot vacuum can clean much faster and efficiently since it has already taken into account objects in its path and knows to avoid problematic areas even before launching forth.

Further, with mapping, if you move objects or relocate the machine, the robot will recognize it’s in a new area and would apply the existing map(s) or create a new one. Nice feature by the way for multi-level homeowners.

But just as you know that the mapping function is driving the movement of a floor robot. Know also, that something is driving the mapping function. Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) and Visual Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (VSLAM) is the brain of a mapping robot vacuum.

LIDAR vs. VSLAM

Recall I mentioned earlier that LIDAR and VSLAM are two mapping technologies driving most of the intelligent robots. The Roomba i7 is an example of a smart vac that runs on VSLAM; the Roborock S5 Max runs on LIDAR; and the Deebot 960 runs on both.

Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that the LIDAR-based robovacs generate floor maps quickly, are more precise in their movement, and faster in cleaning. Robots running on the VSLAM, on the other hand, while they take time to map a floor plus they may struggle under low light condition, are nonetheless future-proof.

Watch this video to gain better insight into the two types of mapping technologies:

Carpet detection & Carpet Boost

The design and construction of carpets, different from hardwood floors, makes cleaning a little tricky. Without your robot recognizing it’s in new terrain, it will underperform and cleaning results will be less than impressive. However, when Carpet Detection kicks in, your robot will recognize it’s now in a new environment and will adjust (with adjust being just another word for increase) suction accordingly for effective pickup performance.

Dirt detection

The Dirt Detect technology found in some models enables the robot to recognize areas needing special attention as per pile level. The robot will focus its cleaning efforts on these areas until the sensor detects reduced specks of dirt. Most Roombas have the Dirt Detect function.

Full bin indicator

Robots with the full bin technology know when their bin is full hence will stop vacuuming and call in help. Robots without the full bin indicator when fill will continue vacuuming, leaving globs of hair and other debris behind as a result. 

I usually advise that a robot vacuum without the full bin sensor should only be used in a space with light debris, probably one where you have run the hand vacuum through beforehand. However, if you’re allowing a robot without the full bin technology into a very messy area, then make sure you get a model with the self-emptying function. 

The Roomba i7+, s9+; Shark IQ; and the recently released Proscenic M7 Pro are few of the currently available self-emptying robot vacuums.

No-go lines/keep out zones

The no-go lines, aka app-based barrier, which become available after the bot must have mapped the house, is a convenient way to keep the machine out of troubled spots without using the unsightly virtual walls or magnetic strips.

Scheduled cleaning

This is a function of a robot vacuum that allows you to clean as per choice or needs. Depending on the device, cleaning can be programmed on the bot itself or activated via a remote, voice assistant, or an app. Also, and with some units allowing multiple scheduling in multiple rooms at different times in a day, other units (usually those in the entry- and mid-level categories) are limited to a maximum of one schedule per day.

Zone & room cleaning

Zone or room cleaning is a handy way of selecting individual rooms of the house for cleaning. This is particularly helpful if you spill coffee grounds in the kitchen or just want to get some of the cat hair out of the living room rug in a pinch.

Hands-free cleaning

Hands-free cleaning is the ability of a robot vacuum or mop to complete a cleaning job with little or no human intervention. Robotic vacuum and mop cleaners that support effortless cleaning have mapping capability to aid navigation and cleaning. Specifically, robot vacuums and mops in this category automatically recharge and resume or recharge, evacuate and resume. The Roborock S5 Max and the i7 and s9 have the smart-top function in addition.

The self-emptying function is an option with Shark iq r101ae, Roomba i7+, and s9+.

Smart interlinking

2-in-1 is when a device combines the vacuuming and mopping functions in a single unit.

Braava – Roomba collaboration is an option to get the Braava jet m6 to simultaneously mop after the Roomba i7 or s9.

It makes sense because, as the robot vacuum is picking pet fur, you can as well get the mopping function into action to help with pet track-in muddy paw stains on your dark floors.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the 2-in-1 robot vacuums are much cheaper compared to the standalone vacuum and mop cleaners.
The Roborock S5, S5 Max, S6; iLife V3s Pro, V5s Pro, V8s, A6, A7, A9; and the flagship Ecovacs (920, 930, 950) are a few examples of 2-in-1 robotic vacuum cleaners.

If you’re wondering, no, iRobot, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a 2-in-1 robot vacuum. They do have robotic mops, though, to include Braava Jet 240, Jet m6, and 380t. The Shinebot W400 is iLife’s mop-only robot.

Dustbin

Having suctioned up the allergens, pollens, and other dust and dirt particles, they get transferred to a small detachable object.
Now there could literally be a dozen names for that small detachable object that collects debris on a robot vacuum–from receptacle to dust box to dust cup to dirt tray. For easy understanding, let’s call this small detachable object dustbin since it’s what most people are familiar with.

The dustbin on a robot vacuum, considering the size of the unit itself, is usually small. The largest I have seen being the Deik 1200pa robot vacuum at 0.9 liters.

As a result, the bin fills too quickly, especially for heavy shedding dog owners. Every time the bin fills, cleaning stops.
Auto-empty robot vacuums turn out to be the perfect response to the attendant hassle of manual and frequent emptying of the dustbin on a robot vacuum.

Auto-dirt emptying

The auto-emptying feature of a robot vacuum is facilitated by its Clean Base (usually sold separately from the main unit).
The Clean Base of a robot vacuum is of two types, bagged and bagless. The Clean Base on the Roomba i7+ and S9+ is a typical example of a bagged Clean Base. The Clean Base on the Shark iq rv1001ae is a typical example of a bagless Clean Base. Both Clean Base types claimed to hold up to 30 runs of dirt.

In terms of which is better, I honestly don’t know. This will mostly depend on your priorities and budget. If you prioritize air quality, though, the bagged Clean Base at a much higher cost of ownership is more than perfect.

Noise Level

How to know a robot vacuum is working? Through its sound.
At a low sound of 55 decibels (dB), you should be able to communicate, make video calls, sleep, and watch TV without having to increase volume.
At a high sound of more than 65 decibels (dB), you might want to have the machine run while you’re away.
The loudness or quietness of a robot vacuum depends for the most part on its motor and the flooring being cleaned (the loudest noise is heard on carpets given more suction is often required).
That mentioned, and with many brands producing a mix of high sound and low sound robotic cleaners, I’ve found the eufy and Roborock to be increasingly consistent in producing quiet robovacs.

Suction

If you own or know one of these robovacs that pushes globs of hair around, then you probably already have an idea of what suction is.
Suction, if it helps to mention, is a robot vacuum’s ability to agitate, lift, and ultimately suck dirt and dust off an area of a floor.

Flooring

There are soft as well as hard floors. Carpets and rugs are examples of soft flooring, while hardwood, tiles, laminates, linoleum are examples of hard flooring.
With hardwood being the easiest to clean, which is why even the beginner robot vacuums would do a decent job.
Carpets and rugs, on the other hand, require the vacuuming power of the advanced robot vacuums.

Dock & docking

Another word for the dock is the charging station.
Docking is the ability of a robot vacuum to recharge automatically.
To ensure proper docking, instructions regarding the positioning of the dock as recommended by the manufacturer in the buyer’s manual should be heeded.

Smart recharging and resuming

Smart recharging and resuming is a function available in the Roomba i7 and s9 that aims to cut recharge time to just as long as it is needed to complete cleaning jobs. As a result, cleaning is much faster, especially in large areas.

Consumable parts

Wheel, battery, filter, roller, side brushes, charger, remote are a few components of a robot vacuum. Extra accessories and parts do come with a few units, and of course, this is what you can confirm before purchase if it matters to you.
Keep in mind, however, that the durability or failure of the main component has nothing to do with the added parts.
Regardless, as the machine gets used (or sometimes even without being used)–some of these parts will become weak and unusable.

Most reputable brands (iRobot I know) provide a time frame when you can expect to switch parts. Although inaccurate (sometimes) in their predictions, but you want to keep that in mind.

The first place I’d look if I were getting a replacement part for my device would be the company’s website. If the part I want to get isn’t available, I’ll reach the customer support to get pointers on where to look. You want to take this VERY seriously. Buying parts from unauthorized sellers can void the warranty on your device.

Extractor

Some units such as the Premium Automatic Robot Vacuum don’t have an extractor. Instead, it has a small hole underneath.

This, however, doesn’t change the fact that the extractor, aka roller or center brush, is that rubber-like material (brush or brushless, may also be a combo of both as seen in the iLife V3 pro) on the reverse side of a robot vacuum that collects debris and dirt on floors, preparing it for eventual pick-up.

This post will be updated continuously. In the meantime, you can use the comment box below to suggest robot-vacuum specific terms.

Leave a Comment