The maker of Roombas, iRobot, is utilizing machine learning to ensure that its latest line of robot vacuums is particularly appealing to pet owners. The company announced Thursday that its Roomba j7+ Robot Vacuum has been specifically designed to avoid animal poop, alluding to an issue that has made attempts at cleanup incredibly messy for some customers in the past. (If you want proof, Buzzfeed chronicled one viral “pooptastrophe” in 2016).
The company says the Roomba j7+ uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to watch out for solid pet waste, recognize if an unwelcome surprise happens to be in its way, and make moves to avoid it. This marks a new milestone in the company’s use of AI, building on the iRobot Genius Home Intelligence platform it launched in 2020 to provide customers with more customizations, including enhanced mapping, scheduling, and automation features.
According to iRobot chairman and CEO Colin Angle, the company is now confident enough in these capabilities that it is guaranteeing that this new poop-detecting feature will work. Although there are other robot vacuums that make similar claims, Angle told The Verge iRobot is the first to put its money where its automated mouth is, offering to replace the item if it fails to fulfill their “Pet Owner Official Promise”—P.O.O.P., as they call it —to avoid running into pet poo.
Angle dug deeper into the company’s rationale for making number two a top priority in this latest model, explaining to The Verge that it is a feature that staff spent years developing. This dedication is a testament to the unpleasant experience customers have reported of Roombas and pet poop colliding, resulting in feces being smeared and tracked across the vacuum’s path. To address this issue, iRobot built a database of pet poop to train its AI system to recognize it in all of its many forms.
“Robotics is supposed to be glamorous, but I don’t know how many Play-Doh models of poo we created,” Angle said to The Verge. “Many, many thousands.”
Of course, this newly-released tech has applications for those without waste worries, too. Utilizing that same AI-machine vision combination, the vacuum can clock other perceived obstacles and will send photos of anything unfamiliar through the iRobot Home App to users, who can then instruct the device to proceed forward or switch paths. Over time, iRobot says the Roomba will “remember” past instructions, allowing it to better navigate rooms by avoiding permanent fixtures and tailoring its speed to clean around trickier spots. It will offer personalized cleaning suggestions as it learns user preferences, such as recommending additional trips during allergy seasons—or, as pet owners know it, shedding seasons.
The announcement also came with news for existing users, who can update their software to take advantage of some other improved AI features. Those include a “Quiet Drive” mode that will send the vacuum silently to and from its cleaning tasks, tools to customize and better estimate cleaning times for rooms, and a “Clean While I’m Away” function, which will automatically deploy the vacuum when users who have enabled location services on their phones leave home.
“Smart home products often fail to live up to consumer expectations when they lack context of the home, cannot learn independently and require complex programming for basic functionality,” Angle said in a press release announcing the updates. “We understand home environments and lifestyles are unique and that it’s important to offer intelligent, simple-to-use products that more thoughtfully work within the boundaries of house rules set by the user.”
If fear of your own personal “pooptastrophe” has been what’s kept you from purchasing a robot vacuum, you can go ahead and get the Roomba j7+ today on the iRobot website, where it’s selling for $849.