Remember that video that went viral earlier this year, the one where the police responded to a burglary call only to find that the intruder was actually a robotic vacuum cleaner that got trapped in a bathroom? Those smart vacs might be good at picking up dirt but they're not always so smart when it comes to getting out of tight places.
So how do you keep your robotic vacuum from wandering into uncharted territory? Consumer Reports testers have some advice.
Some robotic vacuums come with magnetic strips that you place along doorways to keep the robot from crossing. Others come with a device that creates a virtual boundary using infrared beams to keep the robot in or out. And more models come with an app that lets you create boundaries with a swipe of your finger.
Some other ways to keep a robot from roaming? The docking station should be placed against a wall with a couple of feet of open space around it. If you move the station, the robot may have difficulty finding it and could wander around your house until its battery dies.
CR tests the ability of robotic vacuums to pass over rug fringe without getting tangled. But thick bathroom mats should be avoided.
Even pros can find a glitch by chance. A CR tester noticed that one model was missing from its dock every morning. It turns out the robot was unintentionally set to clean every morning at 4 a.m. But all it took to get it back on schedule was a couple of clicks on the remote.
Consumer Reports suggests that the first time you use a robotic vacuum, watch it as it roams around your house. It’s the best way to notice obstacles, like cords it might get caught in or low furniture it might have trouble navigating.