The first Roomba was a well thought-out machine, but after lavishing years of development on the first inexpensive “robot vacuum cleaner,” iRobot realized a fatal flaw with their product: it didn’t contain a vacuum. The original design operated like an electric carpet sweeper, using a rotating brush to collect dust and debris into its collection bin. While this was a fairly effective cleaning method, the device didn’t use any vacuum elements and couldn’t be marketed as a “vacuum cleaner,” which was deemed essential for its success in the market.
Unfortunately, most of the details of the densely-packed design were already set in stone - the overall look of the device, the placement of the circuit boards, the location & size of the battery, there was practically no internal space and very little flexibility to move any of its components. At the eleventh hour, iRobot asked us to cram a vacuum into the device (including an impeller fan, a low-power motor, a filter, & a debris collector) without disturbing any of the existing aesthetics, hardware, or functionality.
Negotiating for every millimeter of space, we began by converting a portion of the debris bin to a housing for the vacuum hardware, repurposing just enough of the removable receptacle to fit the motor assembly. Paul, the company owner and lead engineer on the project, designed an impeller fan profile that fit in that tiny envelope, initially using only aerodynamic intuition to determine its shape. He submitted his design to a testing facility at iRobot for prototyping & evaluation, along with several impeller variants requested by the facility, and was satisfied to learn that his “hunch” had outperformed every other design.
Providing even suction across the robot was our next challenge. We created a diverter and a series of splitter ribs (cut into the wall thickness of the housing to avoid encroaching on other components) which worked together to control airflow and pressure along the vacuum skirt. We also focused on making the vacuum debris bin & filter easily removable for cleaning purposes and robust enough to be removed and replaced hundreds of times without becoming loose or damaged.
Armed with the manufacture-ready CAD data for our tightly-packed solution, iRobot rapidly tooled & launched the first Roomba, becoming the standard for an entire industry of robot vacuum cleaners. Later models incorporated vacuum elements in their initial designs, but the company’s early success was at least partially due to Creative’s last-minute ingenuity on their behalf.
iRobot was encouraged by our efforts on the first Roomba, & asked us to help them design the next generation’s charging station the following year. Creative developed a pair of spring-loaded contacts that allowed the robot to easily drive up onto the charging station & create a safe, robust, & stable connection with the 22 Volt dock.
Again, the CAD we supplied was 100% ready for tooling, requiring no re-engineering or factory alterations for its injection-molded components.