A Roomba is a puck or disc-shaped robotic vacuum that is effective at cleaning floors and carpets without human supervision. They were introduced to the vacuum market in 2002 and have been steadily growing in popularity ever since.
Roombas use spinning brushes and a vacuum to pick up dirt, much like a traditional vacuum cleaner. However, unlike traditional vacuum cleaners, Roombas use a variety of sensors to avoid dangers and stay on track with their vacuuming activities.
So, will a Roomba fall down the stairs? Roombas feature cliff sensors that prevent them from falling downstairs. These sensors stop the Roomba as it nears a ledge, so they can be used in homes that feature staircases. However, Roombas can still run into problems if they are left unattended for too long.
Before we discuss the limitations of Roombas, let’s see how their sensors work.
How Do the Roomba’s Cliff Sensors Protect It?
The Roomba uses a variety of sensors to navigate and perform its vacuuming activities. Each of these sensors is connected to the device’s AWARE robotic intelligence system that protects it from any terrain and environmental hazards.
As the Roomba operates, its sensors transmit data to a microprocessor that can alter the movements and cleaning path of the device to keep it safe.
The Roomba uses four infrared sensors on its front and underside to navigate around the floor and avoid bumping into objects. The Roomba also features a front bumper that absorbs impacts from any objects the device encounters as it moves forward.
The Roomba has multiple cliff sensors on its underside. These infrared sensors are aimed downwards and are constantly transmitting and receiving signals that let the device know it’s proximity to the ground.
If the Roomba encounters a staircase and is positioned in a manner where it is partially extending over the edge of step or ledge, the cliff sensors would notify the AWARE robotic intelligence system that the distance between the cliff sensors and ground has increased.
Once the AWARE system has been notified that the device is at risk of falling, it calculates a path for the device to safely back away from the edge.
This protection feature keeps the Roomba safe when it is briefly left unattended and is useful for cleaning homes with staircases or ledges.
How Reliable are the Roomba’s Cliff Sensors?
The Roomba’s cliff sensors are considered fairly reliable under normal operating conditions. However, these sensors may get coated in dust over time during the device’s cleaning activities.
If dust is blocking the Roomba’s cliff sensors, they may have trouble transmitting and receiving infrared signals that let the device know it’s proximity to the ground.
In this situation, the sensors would fail to notify the device as it nears a ledge, and the Roomba could end up falling down the stairs. To prevent this problem from occurring in homes with stairs, the Roomba’s cliff sensors should be cleaned regularly.
The Roomba’s cliff sensors also have difficulty around black or dark grey carpets. The device’s cliff sensors can sometimes perceive dark colored carpets as cliffs or vertical drops, which can stall the device as it attempts to clean these surfaces.
The cliff sensors work best on smooth surfaces that reflect infrared signals back without dissipating them. Carpets tend to scatter such signals due to their rough and uneven surfaces. Dark carpets may cause even more problems due to the fact that dark colors tend to absorb light without reflecting it.
When the cliff sensors attempt to reflect their infrared signals off a black carpet, these signals may get absorbed by the carpet’s dark surfaces and cause the device to overestimate the vertical distance between the cliff sensors and the carpet.
This could cause the device to perceive a dark carpet as a step or a ledge that is at a great height. Roombas may not be suited for homes with dark carpets that cover staircases due to this reason.
Some users have attempted to tape over the cliff sensors to prevent the device from stalling over dark colored carpets, but doing so bypasses an important safety feature. If these sensors are taped over, the device has no way of knowing when it is nearing a staircase. Taping over the cliff sensors is not recommended for homes with staircases.
What Is the Roomba’s Cleaning Path?
The aforementioned combination of sensors determine the Roomba’s cleaning path. This cleaning path often starts off with the Roomba moving outwards from its starting point in a spiral path.
The Roomba then moves straight until it encounters its first object. The device then uses its special bumper sensor to clean along the edges of this object until it encounters another object, before vacuuming along that one too.
Eventually, the Roomba makes its way back towards its starting point and continues to clean until it is switched off or runs out of battery.
Extra Steps to Prevent the Roomba from Falling Down Stairs
As mentioned earlier, the Roomba’s cliff sensors are fairly reliable under normal circumstances. However, users who are interested in taking extra precautions to ensure their device does not fall down the stairs can purchase iRobot’s “Virtual Walls” to use with their Roomba.
The Virtual Wall offered by iRobot is a stationary standing device that can be placed on floors to alter the Roomba’s cleaning path. This device creates an invisible ten-foot long cone shaped barrier that the Roomba will not cross.
If a virtual wall is placed near a staircase, the Roomba will stop moving forward as soon as it encounters the invisible barrier, and begin slowly backing away from the staircase the virtual wall is positioned next to. This could be especially useful for Roombas with dirty or faulty cliff sensors that have trouble detecting stairs.
It’s also possible to alter the Roomba’s cleaning path using strategically placed objects such as furniture or books. Placing objects along the top of a staircase could prevent the Roomba from falling down the stairs.
The front sensors of the device would detect the objects that have been placed by the staircase, and attempt to back away from them. However, the Roomba’s cleaning path algorithm may try and find a way around these objects and end up falling down the stairs as a result.
Therefore, using a Virtual Wall is considered a better option for users who are concerned about their Roombas falling down the stairs.
Can a Roomba Fall Down the Stairs If It Is Left Unattended?
Roombas are meant to be used with minimal supervision; however, they should not be left unattended for extended periods of time. Even though Roombas aren’t likely to fall down the stairs, they could still find themselves in situations where their cliff sensors are rendered useless if left unattended.
The Roomba’s sensors are good at detecting objects in the device’s cleaning path, however, some collisions may still occur as the device is cleaning floors. Some of the objects the Roomba collides with could compromise the device’s safety features.
A Roomba that knocks down a houseplant could have its sensors covered in dirt. This dirt could block the device’s sensors and render them useless. If the cliff sensors aren’t working properly, the Roomba could fall down the stairs.
Dirt on the Roomba’s object sensors could also prevent the device from detecting any Virtual Walls that have been placed around stairs. This may cause the Roomba to cross the invisible barrier and fall down the staircase the Virtual Wall was set up to protect it from.
The Roomba should be supervised while it’s operating to look for any dirt build up that could be blocking its sensors.
Any significant layers of dirt can be first removed using a cloth. The sensors themselves are more delicate and should be gently cleaned using a dampened melamine foam, such as a Magic Eraser.
Are Roombas Safe For Homes with Stairs?
Roombas are safe to use in homes with stairs thanks to the safety features provided by their cliff sensors. It’s rare for these cliff sensors to malfunction or stop working, but the device should be supervised while it is operating to look out for any situations where the sensors could be blocked.
The Roomba’s cliff sensors are sensitive enough to detect even the shallowest of steps, which ensures that the device remains safe from any ledges. The device can function safely in environments with stairs as long its sensors are taken care of.
Are Roombas Right For My Home?
Roombas can be used in a variety of homes that feature flat floors. They are best suited for open rooms that don’t contain many objects that would need to be navigated around.
For rooms that contain many floor obstacles, a higher end Roomba could be used. The high-end models feature better sensors and cleaning algorithms that let the device clean extensively around objects.
Roombas can be used in homes with pets, provided that the animals aren’t small enough to get sucked up by the vacuum. Most homes with cats and dogs should be fine using a Roomba.
The sound of the device usually keeps pets away, and the rounded design of the device prevents it from harming any animals that it does collide with.
Conclusion: Will Roomba Fall Down Stairs?
In short, the Roomba’s extensive list of safety features prevents it from falling down the stairs under regular circumstances, but the device should not be left to operate alone for extended periods of time.
The safety of the device depends on the cleanliness of its sensors, so Roomba owners that live in homes with stairs should clean their device’s sensors regularly to prevent them from falling down the stairs.
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about Roomba safety.
Which Roomba Models won’t fall down stairs?
As mentioned earlier as well, iRobot Roomba models such as 960, 675, 690, i7+, e5 have cliff detect sensors that won’t allow it to fall or tumble down stairs.
Is fall damage covered by Roomba’s warranty? Roomba devices come with a one year warranty that does not cover devices damaged due to neglect. Roomba owners whose devices have fallen down the stairs due to neglect will not be covered by the warranty.
How often should the Roomba’s cliff sensors be cleaned? The Roomba’s cliff sensors should be cleaned once a month. Roombas that are used frequently should have their sensors cleaned more often to ensure that they are in working order.
What is the lifespan of a Roomba? Roombas can be expected to last between 3 and 5 years with proper maintenance. The sensors prevent the device from damaging itself, but it should never be left alone for extended periods of time.