iRobot Dirt Dog


The iRobot Dirt Dog is a floor cleaning robot similar to the company's popular Roomba and Scooba units. The main difference between it and its cousins is that it does not have a vacuum, it uses only brushes as the pickup and it has a very simple interface, there is only a single button on the unit.

Under the unit are a set of two brushes about 6" wide (one behind the other) to throw debris into it's on-board bin and a single 5" wand on the side to move material from the edge towards the center for pickup, this is what enables the unit to clean near walls and other impediments. There are two knobby drive wheels to allow it to climb over some items such as floor mats and such but the amount of height it can over come is small in real world terms.

Dirt Dog
The unit ships with a slow charger and a single battery which is attached into a well on the underside. There are quite a few accessories that can be purchased separately that will enhance the operation in one way or another such as remote controls, invisible virtual wall transmitters, charging home bases and more but they were not reviewed for this article.

In Use
Before using the Dirt Dog it is recommended that the area be made Dirt Dog safe meaning removing any impediments such as extension cords, rags, and what not that the machine cannot negotiate or that might clog the unit. The unit is about 13" in diameter and under 4" in height so it can get in and under most shop objects like tool cabinets but also objects such as cars and other things that shouldn't be there ;).

To actually use the unit, one simply unplugs it from its charger and sets it down in the area to be cleaned and the start button is pressed. The unit does an initial spiral pattern then is guided by its logic in what appears to be primarily a random pattern. When it runs into an object it stops, changes direction and tries again until it is able to find a direction it can run more freely in.

When it runs into objects it doesn't strike very hard so it isn't likely to mar stuck objects however if you have not been very diligent in making the area safe for it to run in it can result in knocking things over sometimes. The navigation logic used isn't the best and the Dirt Dog can become stuck on or under things if there are limited avenues of escape, that also is part of the making the area "safe". When it does happen it emits a tone to let you know. The unit will run until it detects a low battery condition or has determined it has run long enough. When the unit is first turned on it doesn't really appear that it is getting the floor all that clean, you have to let it go for a full cycle so it can do everything. I didn't perform any measurable tests but it does a decent job of cleaning, I found it doesn't pick up everything, leaves, pieces of wire, and spent match sticks appear to be it's arch enemies, a piece of string is like kryptonite to it. If you get all the big stuff up first, the Dirt Dog can usually take care of the rest.

The debris collection bin is small, so small you'll probably wonder how well it could possibly work. You have to keep in mind that this really isn't capable of handling large messes. For example, if you don't clean planer shavings or whatnot off of the floor the bin is going to fill up rather quickly and the unit won't be of much use.

The unit will run for about 45-50 minutes (on a new battery anyway) and clean a free area of about 300 - 350 square feet pretty well, there should not be any un-cleaned areas that it could have gotten to when it is done. If the area is larger, there will be some areas left dirty.

Dirt Under Dog
The actual cleaned surfaces are cleaner than what you would typically get with a push broom, It does not put as much dust into the air as a typical broom either. It doesn't clean as well as a shop vac, and certainly not as clean as a mop. Now you may be thinking that since this is a robot, if I get another will they work together to get a larger area done? - no; see, the robot technology available to us even in 2007 isn't all that sophisticated. What you can do is buy a longer run battery or other accessories to help, even then, those are not complete solutions to the problem.

One minor problem I had with the dog is that it would be running normally then act as if it had magically entered a zero area room it could not back out of.  Giving the dog a good air bath using compressed air are solved the problem.  Apparently giving the dog an air-bath every so often is a good idea.

Ever since the mid 1900's the promise of robots to carryout mundane human chores has been promised. Although robots have existed for quite a while these have almost exclusively been confined to the domain of heavy industry in the form of welders, mills, lathes, and the like. At the consumer level robots in the traditional sense have been pretty much non-existent. After entirely too long of a wait, they are finally making a slow debut.

The bottom line though is that the Dirt Dog isn't truly durable enough for more than the most light and casual use.  Mine basically wore out in less than four months of use due to a worn drive train.  Even if it were durable enough, the unsophisticated navigation logic and short run time means that it can't really clean a typical shop without additional accessories which renders it not as helpful or convenient as one might expect.  The limitations could be lived with but not the durability issue.  I do look forward to the day when someone comes up with a truly capable machine.