Today, an alert popped up on my iRobot app telling me I could now use the j7 Combo robot vacuum to see a live view of my home, should I want to. A new beta feature called Remote Check In turns the company’s flagship robot vacuum into a livestreaming security camera. iRobot is playing catch-up here; lots of robot vacuum manufacturers have had the live view camera function for a while now (including Samsung’s JetBot AI and models from Roborock and Ecovacs). But I was intrigued to see how the Roomba would handle this new task.
Part of the iRobot beta program (which you sign up for in the app), Remote Check In launched in a limited capacity in November 2022. Today, it became broadly available, according to Ryan Schneider of iRobot. Hence the alert in my app. Schneider also says the feature is only available in the US, only on iOS devices, and only on the company’s j7 series (the Roomba j7, Roomba j7 Plus, and Roomba Combo j7 Plus, all of which have AI-powered obstacle avoidance technology).
With Remote Check In turned on, you can stream live video from the vacuum’s obstacle-recognition camera and view it in the iRobot app. You can use the map screen to set “viewpoints”: areas of the house you might want to send the robot to check on. I set up a Front Door, Stove, and Back Door viewpoint. You can also access a remote control screen and drive the robot around anywhere
A robot vacuum camera isn’t really a replacement for a security camera — it can’t notify you of motion or other activity, the camera stream isn’t on by default, and there’s no two-way talk or any audio in iRobot’s implementation. The main uses I can see for the roving robot camera are things like checking to see if you shut the door, the location of your pet, or if your lazy teenager has gotten out of bed yet.
I do like that it has a similar function to Ring’s yet-to-be-released Always Home Cam home security drone: it’s a mobile camera that can autonomously navigate to set locations in your home to give you a view of what’s happening without needing multiple cameras. When docked, the Roomba j7’s camera is hidden from view.
One big downside of a vacuum as a security camera is the limited view; it’s only a few inches off the floor, so it’s not helpful for seeing if I left my stove on. This is the issue Amazon’s Astro attempts to solve. Another roving camera product, Astro is a small home robot with a periscope camera it can raise to check on things like your stove. Amazon hasn’t made Astro widely available, though you can sign up for the chance to buy the now $1,600 robot that doesn’t vacuum. Amazon is also buying iRobot, so we may see a hybrid Astro / Roomba one day (although that deal hasn’t gone through yet).
In the past, iRobot has gotten in trouble regarding privacy issues with its maps and cameras, so it’s taken steps to assuage potential concerns. First, Remote Check In is entirely opt in and is not on by default. (You have to sign up for the beta program for it even to be an option, and Schneider says there are no plans to make it available outside of the beta). There’s no recording capability; it’s a livestream only, and the stream is not stored or viewable by iRobot — it’s only accessible through your app. When the live view is active, the vacuum’s LED button glows green, and the bot emits an audible ping every few seconds.