How Do Robot Vacuum Cleaners Know Where to Clean?

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Some robotic vacuum cleaners such as Roomba models seem to follow a well-calculated path on the floor. They move in a predictable pattern, smartly evading furniture and never going over the same area twice.

Other robotic vacuums, usually the budget models, seem to move in a completely random pattern; cleaning over the same areas several times and frequently bumping into obstacles and the wall.

How exactly do these gadgets know where to clean and why is there a difference in navigation between the expensive and low-cost ones?

The Basics of Navigation in Robotic Vacuums

When it comes to navigation, there are generally two groups of robot vacuums.

There are those that use a smart navigation system to plot a path around the floor. They scan and map out the floor before cleaning and then calculate the best path that will take the least time and cover every inch. Most Roomba vacuum cleaners belong to this group.

Then there are the ‘dumb’ robots that don’t use any kind of smart navigation system. They move randomly.

The main difference between these two types or robot vacuums is the price.

Roomba models and brands like Neato have smart navigation. They cost around $400 and up. Budget models like Eufy and Deik don’t have any advanced navigation smarts. They usually cost less than $250.

Does smart navigation justify the extra cost?

Well, it depends on your needs. Let’s look at each group of robot vacuums in more detail to see how they work and their benefits.

Smart Navigation Robot Vacuums

One of the Roomba models following a calculated path along the floor

When you switch on a Roomba 980 or a Neato Botvac D7, it doesn’t start cleaning immediately. It will first scan the room to figure out where the furniture is and where it needs to clean.

It will continue scanning and mapping as it cleans. This improves the vacuum’s efficiency and cleaning speed over time.

Neato robot vacuums use LaserSmart mapping and navigation. Essentially, a laser continually scans the room to optimize cleaning.

They also have sensors to detect obstacles and stay away from the stairs.

The Neato Botvac D7 also has something called No-Go lines which are basically virtual boundaries which you create in the Neato app.

Neato No-go Lines

Roomba models have a whole host of sensors to help them follow the most efficient path around the room. Some models also have dirt-detect sensors that direct the vacuum to spend more time where there is more dirt.

Sensors in these robot vacuums work together with complex algorithms to navigate the robot in a smart efficient way.

So you’ll find that a robot with smart navigation can clean a much larger area in the same time compared to a basic robot vacuum.

These robots are also smart enough to clean an entire level without getting lost. They can detect doorways and walls, which allows them to move from room to room.

They also know where they have cleaned and don’t waste time going over those areas again.

Basic Navigation Robot Vacuums

Budget robot vacuums with basic navigation don’t have a navigation system per se. They simply start cleaning and then rely on infrared sensors to avoid obstacles.

Some can follow simple cleaning patterns such as an S shape.

But they are not all that bad. In fact, most of these robot vacuums clean as well as pricier models. It’s just that they take longer to finish cleaning.

They also cannot navigate efficiently through different rooms. So it’s best if you confine it to a single room when cleaning.

Which One Should You Buy?

A surprising number of budget robot vacuum owners rate them very highly even though they are not as efficient in their navigation.

If you just need a robot vacuum that cleans well and your house or apartment is not very big, a basic model costing less than $300 will do. There are some even cheaper ones that go for under $200.

But if you have a large home with a large floor area on one level, you’ll appreciate the smarts of a premium robotic vacuum cleaner. Roomba models and Neato robot vacuums are some of the best.

These premium robots will clean faster and you don’t have to worry about closing doors since they can easily navigate from room to room.

About the author

Vicky Nicholls is the Sr. Researcher and Writer for

Vicky is a full-time professional writer who spends most of her time covering the real-world impact of the latest technologies on consumers' lives around the world. She writes full-time for a number of leading review and editorial publications on the web.

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