With Roomba S9+, iRobot Turns an Important Corner

Lance Ulanoff
May 29 · 5 min read

iRobot is entering the “2.0” phase of its life as a consumer robotics company and the iconic circle isn’t coming with it.

After 17 years and almost a dozen different iRobot Roomba robot vacuum models, the nearly 30-year-old robotics company is introducing the first U-shaped robot vacuum, the Roomba S9+.

As I looked at the larger and clearly more powerful robot vacuum, I asked company CEO and Co-founder Colin Angle, who’s been showing me new Roombas since 2002, if it was tough to let go of the circle. “Yup,” he said and added, “the big round element in the center is the acknowledgement of our past.”

Sure enough, in the center of the $999 smart vacuum is a large copper disk inset somewhat elegantly in the body of the Roomba S9+, though that placement has more to do with staying out of the way of one of the system’s vision sensors than pure aesthetics.

The new design and what iRobot is calling PerfectEdge Technology engineering are a product of, Angle told me, the company asking with each generation of Roomba questions like, “Why are people touching the robot?” “Why did it miss dirt?” “Why aren’t people loving it?”

Over the years, they’ve learned things like customers didn’t like picking up the robot to put it on dirt (easier to do with a dust devil) and weren’t thrilled with a remote. Giving their robots the ability to learn and remember spaces, self-navigate, and be controlled via smartphone or even voice (yes, you can ask Alexa to set Roomba on is cleaning path) have answered many of these questions.

Tracking customers’ needs while staying laser focused on robots that serve a clear purpose (cleaning) has helped iRobot snap up 25% of the overall vacuum market in the U.S. Clearly, with this new iteration, iRobot hopes to gobble up some more.

The Roomba S9+’s radical redesign is, it seems, the answer to a number of key product frustrations: Power and edge cleaning. The “U” (or thumb-tip) shape allowed iRobot to move the rubber brushes in front of the wheels. In addition, the tiny, rapidly spinning side brush, which has existed in virtually all the round Roombas, can finally reach almost every edge and, yes, corner. It’s aided in this edge cleaning mission by 3D sensors that are along the front edge of the vacuum, with one just millimeters from the side brush. The other big change is the power. iRobot claims that the S9+ is 40X more powerful than the 600 series.

The larger size also accommodates bigger filters and a battery that’s twice as large as the most recent Roomba.

While I didn’t get to test the new Roomba S9+, I did see a brief hotel room demo and watched as the robot vacuum hugged the walls in a way that was simply impossible with the old, circular design.

Like the i7 before it, the Roomba S9+ works with the iRobot’s CleanBase, a stationary system that both charges and cleans the debris out the vacuum. Angle told me that Roomba worked to create an air seal within the S9+ and with the Clean base to trap a claimed 99% of all dust and allergens it picks up. Sold together the S9+ and Clean base will list for $1,299.

The second part of iRobot’s 2.0 revolution is about intelligence, actually group intelligence.

Along with the S9+, iRobot is introducing the Braava Jet M6 robot mop ($499). It shares much of the room mapping intelligence introduced in the i7, but without the 3D sensor on the front. That space is reserved for a water squirt hole. The Braava M6 can self-navigate off its charger and uses reusable and disposable pads to dry and wet-mop floors. It can also, for the first time, work as a tag team with the Roomba.

Even though the two robots do not share floor maps (they will eventually), in a home with both robots, the Braava will begin mopping when the Roomba S9+ is done vacuuming. Essentially, if you have an Alexa enabled device you can say, “Clean my home,” and the one-two process will start and finish on its own.

Like the S9+, the new Braava is larger than its predecessor, which means it holds a larger water tank for longer cleaning cycles.

Mow it

iRobot is also finally adding to its outdoor robot technology, which for now consists of the Looj gutter-cleaning robot, with Terra, its first robot lawn mower.

Easily iRobot’s largest robot, the Terra is a mulching mower that uses ultrawide-band beacons to help it navigate your yard. Angle told me the robot must be able to see at least two such battery-powered sensors, which get posted in your yard, to know where to mow next.

Setup is also quite different than a Roomba. First you use a remote to drive the Terra around the perimeter of your mowing areas. After that, it will know where to mow and where not to mow. It comes with a charging base and, if you have a large yard, the Terra can return to it, charge up and finish the lawn mowing job. It can also handle front and back yards, turning off the cutting blades as it travels from one mowing space to another, However, that’s only possible if Tera can see at least two of the beacons, otherwise it just shuts down.

Terra is also ready to stay outside throughout the mowing season. It’s rain proof, and only needs to be brought indoors when it starts snowing.

Instead of a single large blade, Terra uses a series of smaller blades that are designed to retract automatically if they hit a rock or root. In general, iRobot spent considerable time developing the Terra. “Safety so important. The level of testing and preparation higher than anything we ever did before,” Angle told me.

It’ll be some time before the Terra is available in the U.S. iRobot plans to sell it first in Germany starting later this year. Pricing has not been set.

Lance Ulanoff

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Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.