Friday, December 26, 2008

Tip of The Month: Roomba Battery Maintenance

Times are tough and we all need to save and/or extend every penny we have. One way to do so is by making your Roomba work in tip top condition by exercising some battery maintenance. The following tips were originally for the 400/"Discovery" series Roomba but many can still be applied to the newer 500.

Roomba's battery can last for hundreds of charging cycles with proper care. Here are some tips to extend the life of your battery, and help keep it at the peak of performance:
  • Frequent use - Rechargeable nickel-based batteries do best when used frequently. The worst thing for batteries like these is infrequent light use. The Roomba was designed to be used frequently; this will keep the battery healthy.
  • Keep the brushes and air filter clean - If the brushes, brush axles and air filter get clogged with hair and other debris, the unit will strain to spin them, consuming more power from the battery than normal, and battery life will suffer. In extreme cases, the battery can be damaged.
  • Occasionally exhaust the battery - At least once every month or two, make sure to run the unit until the battery is exhausted; it will stop running and will display a red light. It is not necessary to do this every time you use it because it can shorten its life.
  • Keep the battery charged - If you use the standard charger leave it plugged in all the time the unit is not being used. If you have a rapid charger, leave the battery in the rapid charger until just before you use it.
  • Buy a Rapid Charger and Second Battery - Using the optional Rapid Charger and a second battery will allow you to keep the unit running by swapping batteries between the Rapid Charger and the unit. In addition, the Rapid Charger's pulse-charging circuitry will optimize the battery's life while it waits in the Rapid Charger after completing its charge.
  • Keep the unit, batteries and chargers in a cool place - Battery life and charging efficiency are decreased if they are stored and charged in a very warm environment. They should be stored and charged in a cool dry place, out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat such as windows, radiators, heating vents, and large appliances. Make sure the Rapid Charger and the unit have sufficient ventilation while charging. While it is charging a battery, the Rapid Charger should be sitting on a smooth hard surface (not on carpet or a rug) with plenty of space for ventilation.
  • Long-term storage - If you will not be using the unit for an extended period of time (more than a few weeks) it is best to fully charge the battery and then remove and store it separately. When you return, recharge the battery and then run it to exhaustion. The first few times you use it you may not get normal run times, but it will recover quickly if used regularly. Do not leave the battery in the unit for extended periods of time when not connected to a charger because it draws a slight current even when turned off. If left this way for more than a week the battery can run down. If left this way for many weeks, the battery can be damaged. Removing the battery from the unit will prevent this. Do not leave the battery sitting in the Rapid Charger with the Rapid Charger not plugged in to the wall.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Virtual Presence Robot Fallout

2008 was the year of the virtual presence robots. We had WowWee's Rovio, Erector's Spykee and are still waiting for iRobot's ConnectR. Rovio and Spykee came out not too long ago and both were highly anticipated to revolutionize on how we would connect remotely to our homes and be present at least "virtualy" with their help. Sadly both the Rovio and Spykee came short on these high expectations by arriving with issues like poor video quality, akward setup/configurations, unstable platforms and relatively unreliable performance. We can say that these were the Beta version at best of these types of domestic robots but we surely hope that their next version would fix many of these known problems so we can enjoy their true potential. This leaves iRobot's ConnectR in a very good position, their engineers can learn from the Rovio and Spykee mistakes in order to make a much better product. 2009 could prove to be the year of iRobot's ConnectR only if they make a reliable and very usable virtual presence robot.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hardware Enthusiast + Robotics + Linux = DIY Robot

Here is a nice one, a Linux embedded hardware enthusiast/PHP & MySQL developer named Adam Palmer has created a nice domestic robot from scratch! He is not the only one doing something like this but his designs and implementation use "off the shelf" parts that can inspire anyone to re-create this robot on his or her own! It is not a WowWee Rovio, an iRobot ConnectR or an Erector Spykee but it can do as such and then some more if one wished. Adam created this robot from idea to final product within a period of about two months. He used an Alix Mainboard
("brains" of the robot), 11.1v 2000-5000mAh LiION battery, gear motors, omnidirectional wheels , ultrasonic sensors, LEDs, light sensors, speaker/mic, IR transmitters, pico LCD, handful of relays and metal/plexiglass chasis to set this guy or gal up. Adam likes to think of this project as an "intelligent PC" but technologies like these tend to merge within robotics easily. Check out a video of his "domestic Robot" at his website ( I applaud Adam for creating such a device and sharing it with all of us; I hope it inspires many of you out there to do the same by making your ideas into reality.