Robots will one day rule over us all. Until then, they're observing our movements, looking for weaknesses, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Oh, and mopping floors. Meet the automatic mop, the iRobot Scooba 230, floor-scrubbing sister bot to the beefier, better known Roomba series. For £279, iRobot says the Scooba can tackle hard floors from tile to laminate, concrete and wood all by itself, after mapping out your floor layout all by itself. Was it up to the task?
We had high hopes for this plucky little automaton, with its stout yet surprisingly small cylindrical frame. Its chic, minimalist design drew gasps from everyone who clapped eyes on it. And the Scooba hopped to its task in an instant - at least, once we'd charged its battery for a few hours.
In use, the Scooba is as simple as a high tech futuristic mopping machine could be. Fill it with water, add a dash of iRobot floor cleaner if you like the smell of chemical lemons, plonk the bot on your dirtiest ground-level surface and let it go about its business after a short jab of the big black CLEAN button. Nice and simple.
There are just two modes, essentially offering a long cleaning cycle for large (or particularly filthy) rooms, and a short mopping session for spick and span abodes. Watch the Scooba trundle around, and you'll see its logical brain working overtime to map the edges of furniture and fixtures. It does a decent job if the room is a regular size and shape, but anything else and you soon run into trouble.
The iRobot Scooba 230 sets about its objective in a curious way, weaving about the place like a drunk at a disco, careering into walls, bouncing off furniture and seeming to hug the skirting board for stability. After a while, it settles into a rhythm, occasionally navigating around furniture.
iRobot claims this haphazard dance will eventually clean every inch of a room. In practice, we'd soften that claim by stating that the best results come from square, small to medium sided rooms, and only then if the robot is given time to work through its longest setting.
It struggled a bit with the dogleg dimensions of our upstairs landing, especially when using a short cycle. There were areas untouched, while others were scrubbed more often than a nurse's hands.
When trapped in a rectangular bedroom and left to run a full-length clean, results were more uniform, if not quite sparkling. The Scooba's svelte frame scoots easily under bed frames and wardrobes to reach the places most cleaning ladies fear to tread, but when it emerges, it quite often brings with it hair, fluff, and other disgusting debris it’s failed to guzzle up.
What's more, we tested the little scrubber bot on a newly fitted laminate floor. It had only been in place for a week, and yet the everyday dirt after seven days of living were more than a little too much for its minuscule bristles. And that’s a problem. If you take the time to run a dustpan and brush around the floor first, results are better, but ultimately, who is going to buy a robot and then do the cleaning themselves anyway?
The bottom line
If you’re able to keep on top of the more physical dirt around the house, the iRobot Scooba 230 could to be a helpful addition to your cleaning arsenal, but it’s a pricey one considering the shortcomings, and not one you can truly rely on without a bit of elbow grease of your own.
The Scooba's successors may well be destined to overthrow janitors and then all of humanity, but for now iRobot should lower its sights. Just below skirting level, we'd say, and concentrate on the fluffy frontier in front of us, rather than dreaming of Skynet.