Thanks to my robotic vacuum, I haven’t had to touch my vacuum in months — or, more importantly, argue with my better half about whose turn it is to clean. But even the best robotic vacuums on the market right now require babysitting: They need emptying out, rescuing from stray cables, and if you want one room spot-cleaned, you still have to go get the vacuum, move it to where you want it, and then use some kind of barrier to keep it in place.
IRobot, the makers of the ubiquitous Roomba, are trying to fix all those problems with the new Roomba i7+. There’s a bunch of new features that should justify the $949 pricetag, but the one that’s going to get the most attention is the new docking station, which has its own vacuum to empty the Roomba i7+’s internal bin without human intervention.
The i7+ comes with a new docking station that’s much bigger than usual. In addition to charging the robot, it also has its own vacuum. When the i7+ rolls up with a full bin of crumbs and dog fur, the docking station is able to suck the dirt out of the robot into an internal trash bag. You’ll still have to empty out that bag (and it’s proprietary — a roll of three costs $15), but you only have to do that chore once a month, rather than every few days.
The i7+ is also available without the Clean Base for $699, so you basically have to decide for yourself whether saving minutes every month is worth $250. The other consideration, though, is that Roomba’s new base solution might actually be cleaner overall. One thing I’ve found with every robotic vacuum I’ve ever used is that emptying out the bin involves releasing at least some of the dust inside back into the atmosphere. It’s not a big deal, but the Clean Base would certainly stop that from ever happening.
What might prove to be more legitimately useful, depending on how well it works, is the i7+’s new floor plan and room-by-room cleaning options. The i7+ is able to map out and remember the floor plan of your house (even memorizing multiple floor plans for different floors), and it lets you label individual rooms. That means you can assign your robot to clean one particular room without needing to barricade it in, which could be a game changer. My kitchen, for example, gets vacuumed once a day, while I only do the lower-traffic areas once every three or four days. I have to do that manually right now using electronic barriers, but the i7+ should be able to do it automatically. Plus, there’s something decidedly futuristic about telling Google or Alexa to “clean the kitchen” and actually have that happen.
The final new feature that looks promising is the ability of the i7+ to reverse its rollers if they get jammed by cables, which is the one thing that I find consistently cripples the Roomba 980. With those new features — persistent maps, the Clean Base, and more resistance to jamming — the Roomba i7+ looks like a major step towards finally achieving the totally hands-off robot vacuum every relationship deserves.