iRobot Releases Hackable Roomba — Without The Vacuum

We love forward thinking companies that take a risk and do something different. iRobot, the company behind the iconic Roomba, just released the newest version of their Roomba Create — a programmable Roomba (minus the vacuum) that can be hacked and programmed to do all sorts of things.

The company developed the Create with STEM students in mind — a robotics learning platform. It came out originally back in 2007, and we’ve covered many hacks that have made use of it. Many. Like, a lot. One of our favorites has got to be this data center monitoring robot that makes use of the platform!

Anyway, the newest version of the Create features the typical hardware upgrades you’d expect, and with some special emphasis on 3D printing. In fact, the CEO of iRobot [Colin Angle] thinks that 3D printing is going to make a big difference in a few years:

“Your Roomba could be a software file that you print at home,” he says. He says the Create’s new features are a way for the company to get ready for that day, while also providing a platform that educators and hobbyists can use to tinker.

Kudos to you guys, iRobot! We just wish people would stop giving Roomba’s knives…

[Thanks PSUbj21!]

32 thoughts on “iRobot Releases Hackable Roomba — Without The Vacuum

  1. I’ve been thinking of making a Roomba remote controller.

    Typically, roomba batteries fail after a couple of years, and people throw them out rather than get new batteries. Our hackerspace has 3 of these by donation – all with dead batteries.

    Roombas made after 2005 or so have a 7-pin mini-DIN socket that accepts TTL serial, with a published list of commands. I was planning on making a “remote serial port” using a pair of NRF24L01+ transceivers and an Atmel chip interface.

    Plug one unit into the roomba, plug the other into your PC and it appears as a serial port. Any program can then read/write the serial port and control the roomba remotely.

    1. I went down this path too and it lead me to invest in a RooWifi and a RooTooth. The RooWifi is a piece of garbage and I would not recommend it to anyone. The RooTooth works pretty well, but has a limited range. In both cases, I had issues with it staying connected and successfully reconnecting (it goes into a zombie state that requires a full reset).

    1. Heck, I’m still waiting for them to release the “$25.00 LIDAR” unit for hobbyists – that was supposed to happen, then crickets when they came out with the vacuum. So, if you want one of those sensors, you have to purchase one of the robots, then tear it apart (although there are a couple people on Ebay selling the sensors standalone, for about $100.00).

  2. But like I said on IEEE. I WANT the vacumn on it! It’s be great to have just the chassis and the vacumn so that I can add my own sensors and processing to completely out-do the standard one.

    The only thing stopping me from getting a roomba is that they are too stupid to have me trip over them every morning. I’d rather be tripping over a tricked out 22k plate swag machine of a robo-vacumn plizz.

    1. My wife and I have had a roomba in one form or another for several years now; I have yet to trip over it. It doesn’t move fast enough to get in the way.

      The real problem with the roomba (not sure about recent incarnations, but they probably haven’t solved it yet) is the maintenance. Hair, carpet fibers, and dust get deeply embedded in the mechanics of the machine; you can’t just simply remove the brushes and clean them.

      Simply cleaning the brushes works for a while, but about every year or so, I would have to take the machine into my shop, tear it down, then clean and re-grease the gearboxes on everything. Fiber and dirt would get inside, wrap around the axles the gears ride on, and gum up the mess. The vacuum fan and container itself would need a really good cleaning to keep it in top shape for maximum suction.

      Such maintenance goes well above and beyond what most people are capable of, which is why there are now small businesses popping up to perform roomba (and neato) repair and maintenance.

    1. STOP linking to translated sites! Many people on hackaday CAN actually read german (same for any other language). It’s only ONE click in a decent browser to translate the site whereas it’s a PITA to retrieve the original website URL from this garbage you call a link. Thank you mucho!

    1. Maybe someone will think of mating the brains of one of those to a proper battery-operated vacuum cleaner. Say, a Dyson or similar. Finally have something that works decently on carpet.

    2. Yes it does – while it might not be as strong a vacuum as a full-size machine, the Roomba has a centrifugal fan that pulls air in through the brushes (actually, I think now they are just beater bars in their current model, having done away with brushes), along with the dust, which is deposited into the dust container; the air that is pulled in is routed through a filter and exhausted out the rear of the machine. I think I would call that a proper vacuum cleaner; it’s about as powerful as a dustbuster hand-vac.

  3. Have you seen this on kickstarter… with still a couple of days to go we still have time… there is a complete API and it is has everything embedded in a replacement faceplate,… very nice !

    Kickstarter:

    Thinking Cleaner brings Wifi and Apple HomeKit to your Roomba.

    Introducing Thinking Cleaner, the WiFi add-on that enables your Roomba® vacuum cleaning robot to connect to you from anywhere in the world, using the specially designed Thinking Cleaner apps, via Apple® HomeKit® or your home automation system.

    Thinking Bits developed the user-friendly product Thinking Cleaner that replaces the original Roomba faceplate with one that has additional electronics incorporated. This new faceplate fits any Roomba vacuum robot perfectly and adds improved possibilities to even the most basic model.

    Thinking Cleaner enables the Roomba to start automatically when you leave your house or office, using a technique known as geofencing. Owners of multiple Roomba’s can control all of them using the Thinking Cleaner app. Even the simplest Roomba without the built-in timer can be programmed to perform a scheduled cleaning up to four times a day using Thinking Cleaner.

    Thinking Cleaner for your iRobot® Roomba is available now on Kickstarter,
    starting at €99,- for the models compatible with the 500 and 600 series
    and €109,- for the models compatible with the 700 and 800 series.

    Additional information
    Thinking Cleaner adds WiFi support to an iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaning robot. Thinking Cleaner users that have acces to an internet connection can control their Roomba from all over the world and can receive push notifications from their cleaning robot(s). The Thinking Cleaner module can be controlled using the built-in web-app or, when using a mobile device, by using the iPhone or Android apps. Thinking Cleaner comes with an application programming interface (API), enabling users to connect their Thinking Cleaner to their existing home automation systems. Thinking Cleaner is developed to generate better communication between humans and cleaning robots in a simple manner. People dealing with visual or physical disabilities can also make optimal use of the Thinking Cleaner experience by using the accessibility functions provided in the apps.

    The Thinking Cleaner WiFi module:

    • Adds WiFi to your Roomba for ultimate Roomba control.
    • Comes in a sturdy replacement faceplate with all electronics embedded.
    • iPhone®, Android® and web based apps available.
    • Has much more advanced remote control possibilities than the standard IR remote.
    • Easy schedule setup from anywhere in the world, even on Roomba’s sold without the schedule option. Up to 4 schedules per day per Roomba!
    • Get notifications from your Roomba World wide access through our ThinkingSync servers.
    • Max clean function (for large rooms).
    • Multiple Thinking Cleaners are supported by the iPhone and Android app’s.
    * Apple HomeKit® integrated version available, currently only for the 700 and 800 series.
    • Adds accessibility features to Roomba for people with disabilities or people that need care by making full use of the Voiceover capabilities.
    • Runs autonomously on its own CPU to enable full Roomba independent operation.
    • Easy to link to home automation systems (API with documentation available for JSON or XML, expect some home-automation plugins developed by others or us later).
    • Over the air firmware updates. Ready for future enhancements and features.
    • Works without router or modem reconfiguration or port forwarding.

    Kickstarter:

    – iPhone, iOS and HomeKit are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries
    – Android is a trademark of Google Inc.
    – iRobot, Roomba and Virtual Wall are trademarks of iRobot Corporation
    – Thinking Bits and the Thinking Bits logo are registered trademarks of Thinking Bits BV

    1. Somewhere, deep in the bowels of my shop (ok, maybe it’s just hidden on a shelf with a bunch of other crap) I have what I think must be one of the original Roomba vacuums. It’s not the red Roomba, either; it looks older than that machine. IIRC, it has a slide switch on it for the power, and the shape is kinda odd, too (still round – but not as sleek). I don’t know if it works; I picked it up from a local electronics junkyard I frequent (Apache Reclamation and Electronics, if anyone cares). It was just odd enough that I had to own it.

  4. Why is this not a ubiquitous thing?

    Roombas (which must be turning up at garage sales/Ebay/Craigslist) all have the serial port and would seem to be a natural for flat-surface motion platforms. Yet I see very few published posts/hacks/projects involving them – given that I have one of these things just, er, gathering dust what am I missing about its utilization?

      1. Yeah, but used ones aren’t that much – I don’t think I’ve spent more than $25.00 on the “rescues” I have found (which haven’t been many – a couple came from Goodwill, and one from an electronics junkyard). Even via the venues that Thinkerer mentions, most used Roombas worth hacking don’t go for more than $150.00. There are probably other reasons.

    1. I’m not sure all of the Roombas have the serial port easily accessible; I know that the first one my wife and I purchased had one behind a cover on the machine (I think it was a 200 series). We later got a 400 or 500 series; I just took a look at it, and nowhere on the outside is there any indication of a serial port (that doesn’t mean one isn’t buried internally).

      Maybe that is the reason – they “removed” the serial port from the machine after the 200 or 300 series. So now, if you want to “hack” the machine, you have to dig deep into the internals of the machine – if it is accessible at all. Believe me, you need a stout heart to do that; there are literally over 20 small screws, of various sizes that -must- be kept track of (to put them back in the right order, which is really important), just to get the covers off everything. On top of that, the way the cables and other mechanical systems must be carefully tracked, in order to get the system back together properly.

      iRobot didn’t make it impossible to hack – but you have to be real dedicated to do it; it isn’t as simple as plugging in a cable like it used to be. I’m not sure why they changed this (perhaps to sell more Creates?). This likely prevents all but the most hardcore of Roomba hackers (wherever they are) from attempting it; it is likely far easier just to make a custom platform for experimentation. Strangely, though, I would think that a Roomba “shell” – with just the drive wheels/motors, sensors, and a battery – would still be a worthwhile platform for experimentation; basically just rip the guts out and start over, building a multi-level chassis over the bottom “shell”.

  5. Nice list, although I think it’s missing a few great models that should be on there. Spending a bit of extra cash on a good robot vacuum is definitely worth it. Robot vacuums are great on hardwood floors, and many of the people I’ve recommended this to have come back to tell me how much they enjoy it, and how much easier its made their cleaning day. If anyone reading this has hardwood or low pile carpeting, I highly recommend picking one up (if it’s within your budget of course).

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