Understanding Robotic Vacuum Cleaner Terminologies

Sam Harris
written by Sam Harris
part of Robot Vacuums
created on September 9, 2020
updated on October 30, 2020

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Navigation. Mapping. Clean Base. No-go lines. Room cleaning. Suction. Airflow. What about these terms? Do they have any effect on the operations of a robot vacuum? And, if yes, how? Continue reading to find out.

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; as a result, 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 navigation–usually advertised as random/semi-random navigation–cleans without regard for its environment. As a result, cleaning is incomplete, inefficient, and stressful. Few examples include the pre-900 series Roombas and iLife V3s Pro, V5s Pro, and Deebot N79s and 500.

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.). Examples of robot vacuums with intelligent navigation include the Roborock S series (S4, S5, S6, S6 Pure, S5 Max, and S6 MaxV) and the Roomba (900, I, and S models).

Mapping and interactive mapping

Mapping is a robovac’s ability to learn and remember the layout of a house. The robot’s understanding of a home floor plans is then captured as some sort of graph or map, similar to the below:

image_of_a_floor_map_generated_by_a_robot_vacuum

Depending on the model/make you may or may not be able to make changes to the map. Roomba 960, 980, i3 and the E-series Roborock maps but the same can’t be seen or adjusted in the app. Nonetheless, the mapping function in these units enables them to clean in neat, straight rows. They’re more careful around furniture, baseboard, etc. Also, they clean in sequence, therefore, are able to cover the entire area.

Interactive/full mapping takes things a step further by making the generated map available for customizations in the app. With robots with interactive mapping capability you can:

  • Divide and name rooms
  • Save multiple floor levels/maps (number of map allowed for saving depends on the model and manufacturer);
  • Select zones and rooms for cleaning;
  • Keep the device off unwanted areas; and
  • Schedule cleanings by rooms.

Remember that the number of runs it will take to generate a map of your house, the accuracy of the map (robots with lidar technology seems to generate maps faster and more accurately, though) and the interactive mapping features supported varies from models and manufacturers.

Roborock while it currently doesn’t support room naming, its s5 robovac for example can save three maps while the s5 max can save four maps. Similarly, Shark’ IQs interactive mapping supports room naming and no-go line but can currently only hold one map. Yet there’s a certain Roomba i7 that allows saving of up to ten maps!

LIDAR vs. VSLAM

Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) and Visual Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (VSLAM) is the brain of a mapping robot vacuum. The Roomba i7 is an example of a smart vac that runs on VSLAM; the Roborock S5 Max runs on LIDAR, and a certain Deebot 960, T5, T8, and S6 MaxV 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 at cleaning. Robots running on the VSLAM aka camera navigation, 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:

 

 

Intelligent obstacle detection and avoidance

Different brands have different names for this function. Roborock called it Reactive AI while Ecovacs called it AIVI. In any case, the object avoidance function of a floor robot, available in select models, in particular, the Roborock S6 MaxV and Ecovacs T8 AIVI is an advanced feature of a robotic vacuum that lets it see objects (power cords, shoestrings, poop, etc.) in its path while avoiding them in real-time. Below is a demo of the obstacle detection and avoidance feature of the Roborock S6 MaxV.

Carpet Detection

Carpet Detection is a feature that allows a robot to recognize carpet or rug and increase suction (in vacuuming mode aka Carpet Boost) or avoid the same (in mopping mode).

Suction Power & Airflow

Suction is the force a robot vacuum releases into an area of the floor to get the dust and dirt to loosen up. Airflow is the force the robot vacuum uses to pull those mess in. Suction power and airflow especially applies to carpet vacuuming. 1500+ (Pa) of suction and 15+ airflow (CFM) is typical on some of the best carpet robot vacuums.

Dirt Detection

The Dirt Detect technology found in select models enables the robot to recognize areas needing special attention as per the 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. 

It’s advisable that a robot vacuum without the full bin sensor should only be used in a space with light debris, probably one where you’ve 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+ and s9+, Shark IQ, Ozmo T8, and the Proscenic M7 Pro are a few of the currently available self-emptying robot vacuums.

No-go Lines/Keep Out Zones

The no-go lines, aka app-based barriers, which becomes 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 functions to include mapping, intelligent navigation, automated mop cleaner, recharge & resume, recharge, evacuate & resume, and smart-top.

Automated mop cleaner

Currently available on the iLife Shinebot W400, Narwal, and Veniibot, this function automatically cleans the mopping pad while storing clean and dirty water separately.

Smart interlinking/Imprint Technology

Smart Interlinking or Imprint Technology enables the Braava Jet M6 to automatically 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.

2-in-1

“2-in-1” is a term used to describe a floor robot that has both the vacuuming and mopping function. It’s a way to mimic the Imprint Technology of iRobot. Robot vacuum mops are much cheaper compared to the standalone vacuum and mop cleaners. And no, iRobot 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 Roborock S5, S5 Max, S6, S6 MaxV, and Ozmo T8 are a few examples of 2-in-1 robotic vacuum cleaners.

Read: Robot vacuum vs. robot mop vs. robot vacuum + mop

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 the 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 900 milliliters. 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.

Which is better will mostly depend on your priorities and budget. If you prioritize air quality, though, the bagged Clean Base at a much higher cost of maintenance 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.

Flooring

There are soft as well as hard floors. Carpets and rugs are examples of soft flooring, while hardwood, tile, laminates, stone, 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.

Automatic recharging and resuming

Aka auto top-up. This is a robovac’s ability to go back to its charging base to juice up and resume cleaning mission exactly where it left off without human intervention.

Smart recharging & resuming

Smart recharging and resuming is a function available in advanced iRobot (i7 & s9) and Roborock (S6, S5 Max & S6 MaxV) that aims to cut recharge time to just as long as it’s needed to complete cleaning jobs as against full charge. As a result, cleaning is much faster, especially in large areas.

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