The New Roomba 980 Can Now Watch Your Dirt

It knows when you’ve been sleeping, it knows when you’re awake, it knows when your kids spilled Rice Krispies next to the couch and covered the spill with the dog. The new Roomba 980 is a round robotic vacuum with a new twist. While previous models got around by bumping into things and coming to the edge of stairs, the new 980 uses a low-res video camera to “map” your house, assessing where objects are in space and generally understanding the layout of the room while working.

The new Roomba uses something called visual simultaneous localization and mapping (vSLAM) to “keep track of its location until it has cleaned an entire level.” This means the Roomba knows which spots it missed and will work tirelessly for two hours, recharge, and then head back into the fray until it is done. “Roomba 980 will clean efficiently in open areas by moving in parallel lines while also taking advantage of the robot’s suite of sensors to adapt its pattern when necessary, seamlessly navigating under furniture and around clutter,” wrote the company in a release.

Before you worry about Roomba spying on you in the bedroom understand that the camera is very low resolution and that it mostly used to assess distance traveled inside a home. Plans to allow Roomba to identify objects in the house – chairs, tables, cats, etc. – don’t seem to be part of this release but given the low power on board the goal here is to use vSLAM as a positioning system and not a nefarious pervo cam (but there’s a first for everything.)

You can also kick off Roomba’s brushes via the Internet, scheduling cleaning times with the app. I saw some early demos of the new vSLAM technology and it looks far more interesting than Roomba’s previously bumbling attempts at cleaning rooms. Both technologies – vSLAM and the original system – were designed for military robotics and allowed heavy robots to move around dangerous places like minefields to cover all of the available ground. With vSLAM, however, Roomba can do this much more efficiently and, given the minefield that is the traditional kids playroom, it will be a welcome addition to our arsenal.

The new vacuum is available today for $899. I, for one, welcome our vSLAM-sensing robotic vacuum overlords.