Technology

Have Robot Vacuums Hit a Wall?

Image Credit: Photo by Jens Mahnke from Pexels

Spring! Christina Rossetti said, “There is no time like Spring, / When life’s alive with everything.” And William Blake described the ringing of “merry bells” and the singing of “sky-lark and thrush.” Even Emily Dickinson had to admit, “A Light exists in Spring.” Yet there is one aspect the bards fail to mention: the cleaning. Weeding, trimming, sweeping, spraying, scrubbing, dusting—no matter the form, it’s almost impossible to avoid spring cleaning.

Luckily, we have more help than we used to. Spray bottles are readily available. Washers and dryers turn what used to be a day’s labor into simply loading, unloading, and folding. Vacuum cleaners make taking care of a floor a matter of finding an outlet and walking around the room. And even that’s been getting easier.

Like something from The Jetsons, robot vacuums began autonomously cleaning floors in the early 2000s. You’ve almost certainly seen them, if not in person then online or on TV. They’re somewhat small and slim, like oversized hockey pucks, perfect for storage. They’re relatively quiet. And, best of all, they navigate rooms by themselves. But for all the upsides, robot vacuums are far from ubiquitous.

According to recent polling conducted by CivicScience, 15% of adults have used a robot vacuum. About two-thirds of those respondents (10% overall) have liked them, and another 15% plan on trying them. That’s decent news for manufacturers, though surprising for a product that’s been around for over a decade. Less exciting is the 63% of adults who say they aren’t interested in trying these devices at all. And this lack of interest isn’t a matter of awareness, either: 94% of adults already know about robot vacuums.

A product that can save time should be a godsend for people with busy schedules, like parents. But people with kids are only slightly more likely to have unburdened themselves by using a robot vacuum and than non-parents (17% to 14%), and just a bit more likely to have liked it (12% to 9%). In fact, adults who are most likely to be interested in trying robot vacuums in the future have no kids. As others have pointed out, these vacuums are still relatively expensive, and they have issues avoiding things like shoelaces and toys, which might keep parents from embracing them.

The appeal to non-parents over parents could also be a matter of age, of course, as younger people are the most excited about robot vacuums and simply may not have children yet. Millennials are most likely to have tried and liked robot vacuums, with older Millennials far and away the most eager to try them. This bifurcation makes sense, since they’re more likely than their younger counterparts to have started careers and moved out on their own. It’s quite possible that having a place to take care of—while not having the cost of kids—has raised interest in these devices for younger adults.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of robot vacuums is their appeal to pet owners. Dog owners and people with more than one pet are both about twice as likely to have tried and liked robot vacuums as people who have no pets. People without pets are also split between liking and not liking robot vacuums, whereas dog owners and people with multiple pets display higher levels of favorability: about ⅔ who have tried robot vacuums have liked them.

The results for prospective buyers are also rosy. People with multiple pets are clearly the most interested in trying robot vacuums. Nearly ⅕ of adults who own more than one pet say they plan to use robot vacuums in the future. If these devices have trouble working around certain objects, they seem to encounter few issues with pet hair.

Robot vacuums still have a way to go before appealing to everyone. They’re pricey and they still have trouble avoiding anything they can get tangled on, which means users will have to give up the dream of entirely hands-off cleaning. The fact that so many people are already aware of them also won’t make perceptions easy to overcome. This explains why another recent survey found that 63% of adults think they’re overrated, though, as we’ve seen, not that many adults have actually tried them.

Can manufacturers work out the kinks? Probably. Technology almost always improves with time, and as more people buy them, prices should come down. We may even reach the point where you can no longer tell your kids to go clean their room, because they’ll just shrug and say, “But Roomba already did it…” Until then, younger people without much clutter to clear out of the way, and pet owners who need to keep dander and hair in check, appear to be the most attractive audiences.

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