Earlier generations of iRobot's Roomba vacuum-cleaners picked up dirt, but they also had a reputation for blundering about in random patterns while relying on contact and infrared sensors to keep them on course and out of harm's way. Seeking something a bit more intelligent, the seventh generation Roomba 980 is the first of the line of hockey puck-shaped robots to include an intelligent visual navigation system that allows it to map out rooms and clean them with greater efficiency.

According to iRobot, the Roomba 980 uses a new adaptive navigation system that combines the company's iAdapt Responsive Cleaning Technology with a new set of sensors that give it greater awareness of its surroundings. These tie in with iRobot's proprietary visual Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (vSLAM) technology, which is being incorporated into a consumer product for the first time.

Previously, the Roomba could only approximate the size of a cleaning area by means of running along walls or measuring the longest distance in a straight line before it hit something. Cleaning was a matter of moving in spiral patterns or making long, straight sweeps until meeting an object and then going off at a random angle until the entire room was covered. With the new navigation system, the Roomba 980 can map a room and locate itself in it. Now the 980 runs in parallel lines like a farmer plowing a field while the sensors allow the robot to alter its pattern to avoid obstacles until it's cleaned an entire house level.

In addition to the new navigation and mapping capabilities, the Wi-Fi connected Roomba 980 works with the cloud-connected iRobot HOME App, which allows a smartphone to control the robot from anywhere. With the app, the owner can schedule up to seven cleaning sessions a week, start and stop the 980, and select the desired cleaning mode.

iRobot says that the Roomba 980 can clean for up to two hours on a single battery charge before returning autonomously to its base station for a recharge. It has a lower profile for handling baseboards and going under furniture, and the AeroForce Cleaning System with Carpet Boost differentiates between floor surfaces and adjusts itself accordingly. It also has the brushless, dual counter‐rotating debris extractors first introduced on the Roomba 800 series, as well as Dirt Detect, which seeks out higher concentrations of dirt and applies concentrated cleaning.

The Roomba 980 is available the United States and Canada for US$899 and goes on sale in Japan and Europe later this year.

The video below provides an overview of the Roomba 980.

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