Once the stuff of science fiction — remember Rosie on The Jetsons? — robot vacuums have been roving floors for two decades now.
The first robotic vacuums, from Electrolux, went on the market in the mid-1990s but didn't last because of their expense and imperfect ability to avoid furniture and other objects. Then another company, iRobot, launched its version in 2002, which also had the ability to avoid tumbling down stairs.
Now the vacuums’ popularity is growing: The industry is projected to be valued at almost $47 billion within five years, in part because we are aging. Such practical technology is especially useful for those with diminishing mobility.
If you haven’t joined the robot revolution, this is what to know before you buy.
You need some light technical skills. Because it is a smart home device, the vacuum will have to connect to your Wi-Fi, and you’ll need to use a phone app to set up and manage the device. The good news is that most apps are simple to use, says Derek Hales, founder of the website ModernCastle, a product-review site that put 64 different robot vacuums to the test.
They don’t replace a regular vacuum cleaner
Don’t get rid of your current vacuum. Even though robot vacuums have become more effective, they still should be used as an addition to your cleaning arsenal, not a substitute for a standing vacuum. The robots are best for maintaining cleanliness between regular vacuum sessions, says Susan Booth, who oversees vacuum testing for Consumer Reports.
Robot vacuums work better on certain floors. Hard-surface floors are the easiest for robots to clean. Even inexpensive models do this well, Hales says. Carpets are a bit trickier.