New Roomba, Scooba models get to work

iRobot's updated Roomba and Scooba models are more powerful and compact. They also seem easier to maintain, which is a major plus.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
Floor bots: The new Roomba 760 (back) for vacuuming and Scooba 230 (front) for scrubbing. Tim Hornyak/CNET

LAS VEGAS--iRobot demoed its updated line of robot floor cleaners at CES 2011, showing off a more powerful Roomba vacuum bot and a much more compact Scooba floor scrubber.

Roomba hoovered some crushed Cheerios, while Scooba got to work on a coffee-stained tile floor. Both robots go on sale this spring. They're similar to their predecessors, but have important differences.

Both updates have the iAdapt cleaning tech, a sensor and software system that monitors the floor more than 60 times per second and chooses from dozens of robot behaviors to get the job done, the company says.

I played around with the Scooba 350 last year, and wasn't crazy about its bulk, which proved a bit of a pain when emptying the cleaning fluid tanks.

At only 6.5 inches across and 3.5 inches tall, the new Scooba 230 has a much smaller footprint, making maintenance easier, and it can be grabbed with one hand. The new size, however, is mainly designed to allow the robot to get into tight corners around toilets, which was never a delightful chore anyway.

The 230 can scrub up to 150 square feet of sealed hardwood, tile, or linoleum floors, and has edge-detect sensors to keep it away from stairs and drop-offs while working. The company says it can neutralize up to 97 percent of common household bacteria.

A neat feature is how the reservoirs work: An active reservoir system separates the cleaning solution from the dirty water. The active reservoir shrinks as more cleaning fluid is put down on the floor, allowing it to suck up more dirty water. iRobot says this eliminates dirty water from the cleaning area so the robot isn't just moving dirt around like a mop can.

Watch this: Scooba and Roomba

Roomba, meanwhile, has been updated with the 700 series (760, 770, and 780), the sixth generation since the popular bot debuted in 2002. According to iRobot, it's 20 percent better at picking up fine dirt, and it has improved ability to suck more hair and debris from its brushes. With earlier models, manually removing hair from brushes was a major pain.

Its dirt-detect sensor, previously acoustic only, has been improved with an optical sensor. The 770 and 780 models can not only hear the sound of particles getting sucked up, but can see large debris like popcorn as well. This lets Roomba concentrate on particularly dirty floor areas; it now focuses on them by moving in a star formation instead of circular movements, which led some users to believe it was stuck.

Battery life has been boosted by 50 percent, giving each battery hundreds of cleaning cycles. The 780 model, which will be shown off at the iRobot booth at CES, comes with a touchpad interface, eliminating buttons.

We'll check out the 780 later this week. Stay tuned.