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iRobot Roomba 560 Vacuuming Robot Review

Updated on September 4, 2010

High-tech gadgetry has arrived to save us from mundane tasks like house cleaning. It makes perfect sense. Geeks aren’t typically a very tidy bunch since they are so busy tinkering with computer hardware and leveling up their spell-casting Orc. Now a ‘bot’ can take care of the mess while you take care of more pressing matters, like sipping on a cold one on the couch.

In today’s high-tech society, it’s NOT about multi-tasking; it’s about automation. The iRobot Roomba is here to rescue man-lairs everywhere from dirt at scheduled intervals.

The iRobot Roomba 560 is tougher and has more sucking power than previous generation 400-series models. The makers found that people were using their Roomba’s far more than the expected once a week; So there was a necessity to make the 500-series more heavy-duty. The 560 weighs in at 8 pounds, 1.6 pounds more than the Discovery, and the extra width accommodates the robot's bigger wheels and a 33% larger dust-bin.

The iRobot Roomba 560 looks like a giant hockey puck and scurries around on carpeted floors like a horseshoe crab. Chances are that new owners will get a kick out of watching it work. It’s cute and pet-like in the way it avoid most obstacles. The 560 is also prone to lightly bump into objects and perform clumsy maneuvers. The latter is what provides entertainment value and prolonged grins.

Although the technology has come a long way in the last decade, iRobot’s current 500-series robot vacuums aren’t without quirks. Most users have noted that the path finding appears to be random. The Roomba will clean around your HDTV, makes its way underneath the coffee table, veer off to the side of the coffee table, and then make its way back to where it started. After it cleans the same spot several times but misses a giant dust bunny a few feet away, you might feel a bit aggravated.

Do other stuff while the 560 cleans away.
Do other stuff while the 560 cleans away.

There is actually more rhyme and reason to its maneuvers than most people will give it credit for. The robot relies on an algorithm to tell it where to move next. It may not make sense when you watch it for a few minutes, however if you were to analyse the entire cleaning session, it ends up covering most areas of a room from three to five times. Interestingly, the patterns of movement are adapted from MIT research on the efficient coverage behaviors of foraging insects.

An average sized room can take the Roomba 560 roughly 45 minutes to cover. It does seem like an awfully long time and you certainly could do it far quicker yourself. However, impatiently watching the Roomba and critiquing its methodology is missing the point. With scheduling features built-in the 560 is meant to clean while you are at work, on the patio or surfing the Web.

In order to get the 560 working optimally some experimentation is required. First off, you’ll probably want to make use of the included Virtual Walls which create an invisible beam that the Roomba will not venture beyond. Clearly, there is little point in having the robot wander into the kitchen when you have tile floors. Secondly, when vacuuming multiple rooms, the Roomba may have trouble finding its way back to the dock. Try placing the dock in a few different areas throughout the room to discover what works best.

To avoid suicide missions, the Roomba keeps its distance from stairs thanks to its sensors. As a rolling robot cleaning steps is simply impossible, so get ready to go over this area yourself.

While it is better at getting into tight corners than earlier models, the iRobot Roomba 560 is still pretty weak in this area. You’ll still probably want to go over the edges of the room with a traditional upright. On a positive note, since the robot is incredibly thin, it can also access areas that are tough to get at with other cleaning gear. The prime example is underneath beds.

Review Verdict

With its heavy-duty exterior, improved power, scheduling features and numerous incremental upgrades the 560 earns its title as iRobot’s flagship model. Folks looking for occasional help with vacuuming duties will want to look at the iRobot Roomba 530 instead, especially if you don’t need scheduling features. Although it doesn’t come cheap, if you plan to ditch your upright vacuum whenever possible, the Roomba 560 is worth shelling out the extra cash for.

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