Roomba – a fragile machine…

My wife and I have really enjoyed having Roomba around, it really does a nice job of keeping our floors clean. But we have found that it is a pretty fragile device.

First, it needs pretty frequent cleaning. This is not so bad – I take down to the workshop and blast it with air for a while, and all the sensors are clean and it goes back to being it’s efficient self. The main brush gets wrapped in hair, along with every other rotating part, and they need to be unwound from time to time. This I really don’t mind because it’s fixing something, and I enjoy fixing things. But that’s not the real problem.

Second, and the real problem, is that it seems to break pretty easily. If you scan the Roomba discussion boards, you will read about the death spiral, which in our case was more like the line-dance of death. The machine clearly thinks it’s stuck when it’s not, and keeps trying to free itself. When this started to happen to our unit my heart sunk because I had read that the fix is to send it back to iRobot. So I took it to the shop and cleaned it very thoroughly. Somewhere in that process I learned that the little yellow bearing on the main brush had disappeared. Figuring the system must work by sensing motor current, and figuring the missing bearing was certainly increasing friction and current, I called iRobot and begged for new bearings. They were very kind and sent a new set, although it took a couple of weeks. I put in the new bearings just sure it would fix things. It didn’t. I recleaned all the sensors, and checked everything again, but still it didn’t work right.

So, as panic set in and both of us struggled to deal with the possibility of going back to the stone age (remember when you had to push a vacuum around?) we began to think of ways out of this. We’d bought the unit at The Home Depot, and we still had the receipt. A quick look online showed we could still return the unit. Phew! An hour later and the little tyke was again cleaning our house. The folks at The Home Depot were kind enough to return & repurchase the unit, so we regained a 90-day return period.

A lot of folks suggest getting these units at Hammacher-Schelmmer because of their lifetime guarantee, but that means sending it back. Roomba is just big enough to be a pain in the butt to send back. I think if our first unit went bad in two months, our second will be hard pressed to make it much further, and who wants to send a 12lb package 4 times a year? I figure as long as THD will allow us to return & repurchase every three months, the unit’s fragility shouldn’t be much of a problem.

I’m hoping that as more folks buy these units, the fragility of them will drive iRobot to make a more robust unit. This product is such a joy to have around when it’s working, that when it breaks it has a real psychological impact – leaving a door wide open for a competitor who can invent a machine that cleans as well, but lasts longer. C’mon iRobot – figure out a way to make this thing last longer! Better yet, sell (cheaply, please) a service manual and rebuild kit. I would happily fix the thing myself as long as I know how and can get the right parts.

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