Tuesday, May 26, 2009

iRobot Develops Square-Sided Roomba!

BREAKING/EXCLUSIVE: iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) has developed a new Roomba design that features a square front end and a round rear, enabling better cleaning of corners and and wall edges while maintaining most of the iconic round robot's maneuverability and escapability, according to a 2008 patent application just discovered by Robot Stock News. (Additional drawings from the patent application are at the bottom of this post; click on any drawing for a larger view).

From the start, the cylinder-style Roomba has been iconic for its shape, not just its function. Now it looks like iRobot is considering tinkering with the shape to mitigate one of the few flaws that remain with the otherwise fabulous Roomba 500/600 series robots.
"The robot has a rectangular front form factor that facilitates cleaning along wall edges or in corners," the company says in the application.
There are advantages to the new shape, but disadvantages as well, because it is theoretically easier for a square robot to get stuck and require more complex maneuvers. For example, when hitting a corner, the robot cannot turn. Instead, it must back out of the corner first, lest one of its corners smack against the wall. (That's sort of like the difference between a regular tractor mower and a zero turning radius mower). The idea is that the square side of the Roomba will be in front, with the rounded side in back for easy maneuvering when in reverse/escape mode. Ideally, according to the patent filing, the robot's brushes would be as flush with the front of the robot and the corners as possible; it would defeat the whole point if you had the brushes in the center of the robot as they are now, because that would leave several inches unvacuumed.
Now, whether we will actually see a square-sided Roomba is an open question, especially given the iconic status of the original disc and the fact that the drawing looks downright fugly. But if it cleans better, nobody will care. It also could have substantial advantages, potentially housing more powerful vacuum/battery/larger bin, etc. because of its elongated shape. Note that the new design actually features 4 side brushes, instead of the single side brush on all previous Roomba models; the shape also seems significantly taller than existing models; that could all signal that this model is aimed at a higher-end market.
I can certainly imagine the Square Roomba being an upscale version targeted for small businesses. Many small businesses already employ Roomba, but eventually customers will notice the dust that accumulates in the corners and you have to bring out a push vac. I also note that the company in the patent filing also appeared to leave open the possibility of using this design for its awesome Scooba floor washing robot as well. The Scooba -- which is my favorite home robot -- is even more hampered by the round design because it does not have the Roomba's rotating side brush, and thus would benefit more from the Square treatment.
I also caution that iRobot has previously filed for patents on products that so far have never shipped, including a patent application for the long-elusive iRobot robotic lawnmower, first revealed right here on Robot Stock News. And a final caveat; the existing Roomba 500 series is less than two years old, and it would seem highly doubtful that we'll see a new generation of Roomba before 2010 at the absolute earliest, especially given the crappy economy.

As promised, here are additional images taken from the patent filing:

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neptune said...

wish they make an add-on square attachment for old Roombas.

thorn_stevens said...

That would be nice, but ain't gonna happen. Designed obsolence. Think GM circa 1954. Cars then were meant to last a few years so you'd buy another!