Hacking Roomba

DIY Robotics with Roomba Holiday Buying Guide

The Roomba is already a standard holiday gift for gadget freaks worldwide. Get a Roomba for your favorite gadget person and they’ll thank you. By itself the Roomba is a mesmerizing device. It’s fun to watch. And while it can’t replace a normal vacuum cleaner, it’s great for ferreting out dust bunnies under the bed and other hard-to-reach places.

And now the Roomba is a doubly useful present because it can be turned into a reprogrammable robot to do ones bidding. You can control it from your computer, program new cleaning algorithms, and make it sing and dance.

It’s not often a gift can serve two entirely different purposes. The Roomba is one of those gifts.

Finding Low-Cost Roombas

Most people think Roombas cost several hundred dollars. And then they get discouraged, believing they can’t afford one of these amazing little robots. It turns out you can easily get Roombas for under $100. On either the iRobot store or on Amazon the key phrase to look for is “Remanufactered Roomba”. These are Roombas that have been returned by people who thought they could take the place of a full vacuum. Their loss is our gain. iRobot takes the returns and updates them to function exactly as brand new ones.
From Amazon, you can get a Roomba Red for $89:

roomba red

You can get the same Remanufactured Roomba Red from IRobot for $109 and free shipping.

These Remanufactured Roomba Reds all work great as a robotics hacking platform, and work with all the hacks presented on this site. I’d even say they work better because in the unlikely event you break it, you’re out $90 instead of $350 for the top Roomba model.

A great resource to keep up-to-date with the lowest price Roombas is the Robot Stock News Roomba Buyer’s Guide. Right now he notes that you can get two Roombas for $155. That’s $77 per Roomba.

Brand New Roombas

If you prefer a brand new Roomba, iRobot has recently released the Dirt Dog workshop robot. It’s sort of a robotic shop vac and has stiffer bristles, can pick up nuts and blots, and has a bigger dust bin:

dirt dog

It’s only $129 brand new direct from iRobot. It’s not called a “Roomba” by iRobot, but it still works with all Roomba hacks.

Roombas are really pretty affordable now.

Roomba Interfaces

Once you have a Roomba, you need a way to talk to its ROI (Roomba Open Interface) port. You (or your gift recipient) can either build or buy an interface. If you go with a wired tether interface, you can build a serial tether for about $20. To get running quickly you can buy a $29 RooStick serial adapter from RoombaDevTools.com.


You’ll also need their $17 Mini DIN cable.

A serial tether is extremely useful when you’re first starting out, but the real fun comes when you go wireless. The easiest wireless interface for the Roomba uses Bluetooth. You can either build a Bluetooth adapter for about $70, or buy a fully-assembled RooTooth Bluetooth adapter from RoombaDevTools.com.


The RooTooth sells for $99. You can get an additional 10% off any RoombaDevTools order if you join the RoombaReview forums and use the coupon they have there.

If RoombaDevTools is out of stock, try out SparkFun. Besides having an entire Roomba development section containing primarily RoombaDevTool products, they also have tons of other fun parts for robotics hacking.

Start Hacking!

That’s it, that’s all you need. Just a Roomba and a Roomba interface and you’re good to go. Get them for your favorite gadget nut this holiday season and they’ll be occupied with making their Roomba do crazy things for several months. To see an example of some of the fun possible, see the Projects listed on this site. For more projects ideas, check out the book or poke around the RoombaReview forums.

Of course, if besides the functional changes, you’d like to get some cute costumes from MyRoomBud.com for your Roomba gift, there are many fun ones to be had, like:


Happy Holidays!


3 Comments so far

  1. thomas December 7th, 2008 9:13 pm

    does the Dirt Dog support the ROI so I can do all the neat hacking projects mentioned in the “hacking roomba” book?

  2. Alex January 7th, 2009 7:05 pm

    yes, the dirt dog supports the roi input.

  3. […] First, if you’re unsure about how to get into hacking Roombas or just want some tips on how to get cheap Roombas, see the DIY Robotics with Roomba Holiday Buying Guide. […]