How does a robotic vacuum cleaner work

Most customers might purchase a product, only to find themselves having the question, “How does a robotic vacuum cleaner work”, after using it a couple of times. In this article, you will find out exactly how a robotic vacuum cleaner works to clean your home and keep it healthy for you and your entire family!

How does a robotic vacuum cleaner work?

Robotic vacuum cleaners have some classic advantages over regular vacuum cleaners. These vacuum cleaners are built to clean different kinds of surfaces like tile, carpet, limestone, etc. Robotic vacuum cleaners can be set to start cleaning on schedule, something which regular vacuum cleaners cannot do. These vacuums can also be upgraded to new software; giving the user an even better cleaning experience.

If you often wonder how does a robotic vacuum cleaner work, well, it works quite similar to a regular vacuum. The vacuum has a motor which generates a strong suction, while brushes on either side push in the dirt and debris towards the suction. Most of these vacuums come with 2 drive wheels and 1 or more caster wheels to help them navigate through your home.

Robotic vacuums navigate through your home by using sensors placed under and inside the vacuum. These sensors allow the vacuum to detect obstacles, provide feedback about the vacuums surroundings and also track the path traveled by the vacuum.

Most robotic vacuum cleaners come with a docking station where the vacuum guides itself to recharge in between cleaning sessions. After the cleaning session is complete, the vacuum finds its way back to the docking station where it sleeps till its next scheduled cleaning.

A V shaped light is emitted by the docking station; this light allows the vacuum to find its path back to the docking station when in need of a recharge. The light is emitted for a distance of about 6 feet; however, the smart technology of the machine steers clear of the light when it is in the middle of a cleaning session.

It is important for the owner to place the docking station in an easily accessible place, where the vacuum can easily navigate and find its way. However, the owner can also manually place the vacuum at the docking station in case it cannot self-navigate.

Most robotic vacuum cleaners efficiently pick up the dirt and debris in its way, however, occasionally; the vacuum might leave out certain spots if it is not detected by its programmed ‘peripheral vision’.

Robotic vacuum cleaners are inefficient beyond a 30 to 35 degree slope; however, this is not a major issue as most homes have a level, plain surface. The vacuum however, can efficiently go up and down stairs and even work well on carpets and hardwood floors. Although, it is important to remember that a robotic vacuum cleaner will not provide the same efficiency of deep cleaning as a regular vacuum cleaner would.

Read also: Best robotic vacuum for dog hair

How does a robot vacuum see the surroundings?

A robotic vacuum cleaner uses sensors which are placed inside and under it to ‘see’ its surroundings. The technology of the vacuum then processes its environment and surroundings and navigates itself around obstacles such as stairs, cliffs, furniture, walls, etc. A robotic vacuum has inbuilt technologies to avoid these obstacles and bumps and navigate through every home to efficiently clean its surroundings.

Some of the technologies used by a robotic vacuum are:

  • Cliff sensors: The vacuum bounces infra-red light off the floor to measure the distance between the base of the vacuum and the floor. In case the vacuum senses a sudden change in the distance, it processes a steep fall and steers clear of that area.
  • Bump sensors: These sensors work true to their name; the sensor is triggered if the vacuum bumps against anything in front of it. These sensors alert the vacuum when it is close to an obstacle, like a wall, and allow the vacuum to navigate itself along the edge of the wall without bumping into it.
  • Optical encoders: These sensors allow the vacuum to calculate the distance that it has traveled. This technology uses light sensors to detect the number of times the wheels of the robotic vacuum have turned, thus allowing the robot to figure out the distance it has traveled.

The question – how does a robotic vacuum work is answered by simply going through the different sensors which a robotic vacuum is equipped with. These sensors allow the vacuum to learn about its surroundings and infer information like; how far it has traveled, how much dust it has collected, where there is danger or obstacles in front of it.

How does a robot vacuum navigate?

How does a robotic vacuum cleaner work

photo credits: wikimedia

So how exactly does a robotic vacuum work and navigate its way through your home? The answer is quite surprising; with the help of insects!

Rodney Brooks, a brilliant mind from MIT, during one of his researches, was studying insects and flatworms. This new research was stepping away from AI problems which allowed a computer to play chess with another human. This research founded that an insect like an ant is not a smart insect; however, it can effectively navigate through the world. The research unearthed the fact that by following a basic, simple set of rules, a simple animal like an ant could create far more complex behaviors. The ant uses a simple theory; to search for food, to return to its nest and to guide fellow ants. This simple rule does not require much brainpower from the ant; simply the ability to follow the rule efficiently.

Using the same theory, a robotic vacuum does not require a ‘smart’ technology to know each individual room, but by following a set of simple, defined rules, it can effectively clean a room, even depending on different situations. These simple rules are called ‘behaviors’ and they allow the robotic vacuum to navigate through a room and clean it while not bumping into obstacles or falling off steep cliffs in the room.

These behaviors are very simple and easy to follow; the straight behavior tells the vacuum to simply steer straight till it hits an obstacle, the bump behavior makes the vacuum stop and change direction, the spiral behavior tells the vacuum to clean in a spiral movement in expanding circles, etc.

These simple rules or ‘behaviors’ allow the vacuum to effectively navigate through any room which it is placed in, without having to learn the map of the individual room.

Example: A user has placed the robotic vacuum in the middle of a room in ‘spiral’ mode. The vacuum will start cleaning the room in expanding circles. In case the vacuum bumps against an obstacle, it will change its direction and start cleaning according to its ‘wall-following’ behavior. After a certain distance, the vacuum will change to its ‘straight’ behavior and continue the cleaning process. These pre-set behaviors allow the vacuum to randomly change its ‘behavior’ and clean the entire room, while still following its rules and ensuring that every bit of dirt and debris is effectively cleaned from your home.


For those home owners who have hectic lifestyles and cannot make time to regularly use a vacuum cleaner in their homes, the robotic vacuum cleaner comes as quite a boon. The robotic vacuum not only cleans off dirt and debris but also removes allergens, effectively reducing or eliminating the risk of the owner from suffering from allergies. These smart vacuum cleaners clean your homes effectively at pre-set times according to your convenience, while allowing you to enjoy the other aspects of life and not have to worry about cleaning your homes!

Here are some tips and tricks on how to get rid of stains and clean a rug at home.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

House Cleaning Advice
Compare items
  • Total (0)