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iRobot's cloud-connected Roomba 980 is smart enough to map floors

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Two years ago, iRobot got rid of bristles with the Roomba 880. Now, the company is making its iconic vacuum cleaning robot even smarter with the Roomba 980, which it claims is the first Roomba to "combine adaptive navigation with visual localization." Translation? It's a heckuva lot smarter than past Roomba's, so much so that it can map and clean an entire floor on its own. That's something iRobot CTO Paolo Pirjanian hinted at when we spoke to him at CES -- he was far more intrigued by bots that could understand and interact with your home more than drones. The 980 is also the first Roomba that's connected to the cloud, allowing you to control it from iRobot's new "HOME" app. That lets you kick off Roomba cleanings from anywhere, as well as manage your vacuum bot's schedule. The Roomba 980 hits the US and Canada for $899 starting on September 17.

Gallery: Roomba 980 | 9 Photos

"The technology embodied in this robot is going to change the role robots play in our lives," iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle said at a launch event today. He went on to say it's probably the most significant launch from iRobot since the original Roomba hit floors in 2002.

Basically, the Roomba 980 is iRobot's foray into the smart home. The company notes it's the first time its "visual simultaneous localization and mapping" (vSLAM) tech has made it to a consumer device -- it was previously found on more enterprise-oriented products like its Ava telepresence robot. vSLAM sits at the heart of the company's new "iAdapt 2.0 Navigation with Visual Localization" technology, which allows Roomba to not only avoid obstacles, but also intelligently map your floors (another first for Roombas). A visual sensor (basically a powerful camera) along with a floor tracking sensor allow it to know exactly how far it goes in any direction.

"It can create an actual map of the home," Angle said. "This is important because our goal is not to clean a part of your home, our goal is to clean your entire home."

Oh yes, and it can clean well too: The company claims its brushless motor cleans carpets and rugs twice as well as its generation 3 motors (from the brush-equipped 600 and 700 models). It's unclear if it's much better than the Roomba 880, though. The 980 can clean for a full two hours, and if it still has work to do after that, it will return to its home base to charge and then get back to it.

So what led iRobot to finally make a Roomba app? Angle says the big reason was to give you an easier way to schedule their Roombas. Many people just avoided using the built-in scheduling buttons in past Roombas, he said. The app also lets you check up on your Roomba to make sure it did its homework, as well as tweak how exactly it cleans your home.

Sure, it's very expensive, but that's par for the course for most new Roombas. What's most intriguing about the Roomba 980 is how it fundamentally changes the way robotic vacuums work. Ideally, all of its sensors means you won't have to run around the house clearing your floors of obstacles, or sweep up any stray dirt that Roomba may have missed. And if it's too rich for your blood, take solace in the fact that it may drive down the price of the brushless Roomba 880, as well as older models.

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