Alas, poor Robot; I broke him, Horatio

By Mir
August 24, 2006

Despite your well-wishes for my new robot lover and I to live a long and dustbunny-free life together, ’twas not to be. After taking him apart and lovingly cleaning his brushes (“Ewwww… how did all of this CRAP get in here when the stupid thing only RAN for FIVE MINUTES??”) and swabbing his sensors (yeah, baby) and reading his troubleshooting guide, I came to an inescapable conclusion:

One of the wheels was kaput.

Oh, he had the cliff sensors and the whiskery wall sensor thingie and height control and happy brushes and all, but one of the wheels was so jammed up that it just. wouldn’t. turn. And I’m not a vacuumologist or anything, but I’m thinking that inability to locomote other than in a teeny neverending circle is going to be problematic, from a cleaning standpoint.

Because I believe that all of the world’s major problems can be solved online, I zipped on over to robot Mecca for some help.

I wasn’t able to find any answers in their troubleshooting guide (although I swear to you that “What is my Roomba trying to tell me?” is one of their popular questions). But! They have live customer chat! I opted for that over calling them on the telephone, because how in the world would I be able to blog every last detail if I CALLED them?

It started out well enough, I suppose.

Brad: Thank you for contacting iRobot Customer Support. My name is Brad. How may I help you?
Mir: Hi Brad! I just got my Roomba yesterday and I was so excited… but it isn’t working right.
Mir: One of the wheels appears to be jammed.
Brad: Have you manually turned the robot upside down and rotated both drive wheels to see if they rotate equally?

Have I MANUALLY turned the robot upside down? It took every fiber of restraint in my body to keep from telling him that THAT must be the problem; I had only tried turning the robot upside down USING ANOTHER ROBOT. My bad!

Mir: Yep, I tried that after emptying the dirt cup and cleaning the brushes. I can only rotate one of the wheels. The other I cannot move at all.
Mir: Which is consistent with what it’s doing, which is rotating around that wheel and then turning off.

At this point, I am still chuckling that my CSR’s name is Brad. Because… um, possibly because I am a child. I don’t know why it made me laugh. Other than that Brad is a quintessential help desk name, somehow.

Brad: when it turns off is it giving you an error code?
Mir: It starts and stops a bunch of times, then gives up and beeps a bunch. But, um, I don’t speak robot yet so I don’t know what it’s telling me.
Brad: well it will give you a uh-oh sound followed by a couple of monotone beeps which is what tells us whats causing the behavior. does it sound like this link below?
URL Received

An “uh-oh sound?” Listen, Brad. I have children. I know an uh-oh when I hear it. The robot does not uh-oh. The robot limps in a circle, stops, limps in another circle, stops, jerks around a bit and then mutters SCREW YOU, BITCH and turns itself off. But it doesn’t say uh-oh.

Apparently I was able to convey this to Brad via my confused staring at my computer monitor, because while I was busy trying to view the URL he sent me, he continued on (or, possibly, finally read what I’d said earlier).

Brad: ok, well it sounds like we are going to have to do an exchange on that robot due to that wheel not being able to be rotated.
Mir: Okay… I bought it through Amazon. And it’s refurbished! It should have just been all inspected! Hmph.
Brad: If you would like we can do the exchange via this chat or if you are more comfertable you can contact our customer support department. Did you have a preference to which we would use?
Mir: This is fine with me.

We commenced with the information exchange. Well, I guess it wasn’t really much of an exchange. I gave him all of my information, and he remained humorless. Observe:

Mir: It did work for about 5 minutes before the wheel locked up, by the way. Dunno if that’s important. Long enough to dart under my couch and suck up a bunch of hairballs. But I didn’t think my dust bunnies were strong enough to break it!
Brad: No that shouldnt have had anything to do with that behavior
Mir: Phew. ;)
Brad: Ok, I have set up an exchange for you in our system.

[Subtext: Lady, stop trying to joke with me. I am impervious to your lightheartedness. This is Robot Central and we take life VERY SERIOUSLY here. Which is why we are all named Brad.]

Brad: first thing we need to do is take the battery out of the robot and put it in the refridgerator
Mir: Heheheh okay

I am taking directions from someone who doesn’t know how to spell refrigerator. WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE.

Brad: the reason for this is it will keep the charge active in the battery while we are waiting for your new robot
Mir: excellent
Brad: What you will then do is place the robot in a box by itself, you will not need to send in the battery, chargers or accessories

Damn. Couldn’t he at least PRETEND I was placing the lifesource in cryofreeze, or something? He keeps calling it a robot, the LEAST he could do is go for a bit of future-speak. Sheesh.

Okay. Joking aside, up to this point I was doing just fine. I felt I was receiving good service. Brad was… serviceable, if boring. But it was while he was explaining to me exactly how to ship it back that things went a bit awry.

Brad: When you ship it you will want to make sure you are getting tracking on that package to make sure it does not get lost.
Mir: Am I paying for the shipping on this?
Mir: When I received it broken?
Brad: Once we receive that package we will ship it back by UPS residential shipping.
Brad: we handle the shipping back.

Oh, they handle the shipping BACK. Except, BRAD, that is not what I asked you. So I tried again.

Mir: But I am paying to ship it to you when I received it broken?
Brad: for our exchanges the shipping to us is from you with whatever shipping service you choose then we send back by UPS residential.

Call me crazy, but when I drop big bucks on something, I expect it to WORK. But things happen; I understand that. If the thing I just paid a lot for arrives and doesn’t work, my craziness extends to feeling that the company responsible should be bending over backwards to convince me that my satisfaction is their primary concern. At the very least, a shipping label so that I’m not paying for their mistake just seems like common sense to me. I thought Brad should know my position.

Mir: Okay, with all due respect, that’s insane. You guys put your name on a defective product which I paid a LOT of money for.
Mir: I have had it here in my house for approximately 12 hours.
Mir: And now I have to pay to send it to you?
Mir: I already gave Amazon a couple hundred dollars.

This is the point at which Brad should say: You know what? You’re right, and I am SO VERY SORRY that our certified refurbished product was in fact a lemon, and please allow us to foot the shipping because it’s bad enough that you’ve had to endure the disappointment and hassle of receiving a defective unit. Did Brad say that? Go on, guess.

Okay, nevermind. You’ll never guess.

Brad: If you would like I can send you some filters priced at 17.99 for free to off set your shipping fee.

What I would like, Brad, is for your company to pay the freaking $5 shipping fee as a show of professionalism and good faith, not for you to buy me off with a filter which, by the way, is too expensive. But I’m pretty good at math, so despite how ass-backwards I find this, I agree to your terms. Brad.

I acquiesced and Brad processed my filter order. It was just as exciting as it sounds.

Finally, we were done.

Brad: That should be everything. Did you have any other questions regarding this process?
Mir: Nope, I will ship my sad little roomba back to you and hope y’all can fix his wheel. And that the replacement doesn’t limp.
Brad: The replacement will be a brand new robot so it should be in perfect condition for you once you receive it.

Mental math: I saved $150 by buying refurbished instead of new. Did he just say they were sending me a BRAND NEW robot? This little annoyance may actually pay off. Wow. I’m suddenly very glad I didn’t try to return it to Amazon.

Coincidentally, I’m suddenly feeling much kindlier towards my friend Brad.

Mir: Well that would be good. I actually was happy to buy remanufactured; I’ve never had a problem before (I figure they’ve been thoroughly tested). But I’m looking forward to a working unit.
Mir: Thank you for your help.
Brad: no problem, thank you for contacting iRobot we look forward to hearing from you in the future!

Really, had he added “all your base are belong to us” he could not have sounded more like a robot, himself, at that sign-off. Nor do I believe he looks forward to hearing from me in the future.

So those had better be some damn fine filters, is all I’m sayin’.


  1. Aubri

    Oh. My. Word. I love that he was so humorless :-) For some reason, that’s endearing. Do keep us informed on the new robot! Hope its better this time…

  2. Moniq

    I’m not convinced he wasn’t a roomba with added capabilities…

  3. Vanda

    Wow Mir, you made out like a bandit. A NEW one to replace a used one and a mega buck filter free! Not a bad days work.

  4. Boutros

    Though I don’t have a Roomba and fear it would be overwhelmed by my tumbleweeds of cat hair, I have to agree with you that online customer service chat is pretty awesome. I use it whenever I get the chance. Mainly because I tend to get snarky and mean when I use my voice.

  5. Bob

    just remember if you’re ever in trouble, send Monkey to find the roomba and tell it “Mir barada nikto”. It’ll start shooting laser beams out of it’s sensors and come to the rescue. With Brad right behind it.

  6. Sara

    This post probably has my favorite title ever! I was laughing before I had read anything else and then I didn’t stop the whole way through. AYBABTU!

  7. Elleoz

    Sounds like you got way more than you bargined for. Wheee! I hope your brand-spanking new roomba works for you. I might have to start saving up for one of them there thinga-majigy’s. :)

  8. Amy-Go

    Sounds to me like Brad WAS a robot…

  9. Red

    I should buy one of those things just to freak out my cats. LOL

  10. debby


    I was one of those people, this very morning, who went online to find out ‘what is my scooba trying to tell me’? It was trying to tell me “My battery is dead, lady.”

    My bad. I should have kept it in the refrigerator, I suppose?

    BTW, other than an occasional minor annoyance, this was the best birthday/Mother’s Day present EVER! Hubby wouldn’t agree to a cleaning lady, so this was the next best thing. He laughed when I said that I wanted this, but who’s laughing now? I haven’t scrubbed a floor since May!

    I hope you and your new Roomba have a long and happy relationship.

  11. bigbadex

    Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!

  12. chris

    Wow, a BRAND NEW one?!? Maybe it will be a talking model like Brad.

  13. Summer

    I have heard the uh-oh sound, but silly me, I thought it was saying “I’m sad. I’m sad.” But robots don’t have emotions, do they? No. Now I know that the robot is really saying “uh-oh.”

    It does sound sad, though.

  14. Aimee

    In the whole wide internets, you are the only person who could make inadequate customer service funny and incorporate a Hamlet reference, too. I heart you.

  15. djuggler

    “Though I don’t have a Roomba and fear it would be overwhelmed by my tumbleweeds of cat hair”

    That’s a perfect scenerio for a Roomba. All pet owners should have Roombas. We love ours! Our infant when from being a link brush to crawling hair and fur free floors.

    The extra filters in leu of shipping is a great deal. You’ll want those and you can only get them through iRobot.

  16. Kelly

    You did so much better than I could have with Brad. I ADORE messing with tech help people’s heads. It’s like this weird instinct with me that I just can’t resist. Of course the fact that I do it with any kind of customer service people, especially the un-friendly ones, causes my husband much grief. And a new roomba??? Congrats. I want one, but husband says no. Which I can’t blame him for really since we’d have to move EVERYTHING off of our floors.

  17. Ei

    I think I dated Brad in college.

  18. InterstellarLass

    Those CS agents are so scripted. The are actually taught to not think for themselves. Question A gets response 1, 5, or 7. Question B gets response 2, 6, or 9.

    You’re getting a FREE filter and a BRAND NEW robot!? Lucky.

  19. Dawn

    What else do you think we can program BRAD to do?

  20. Amy

    Hmmm, so could you conceivably sell the brand spankin’ new robot on eBay and then take the proceeds and buy a new refurb from Amazon again? Thus making money and having a Robot? Do enjoy ebay, or too much trouble?

  21. Velma

    Great. I started muttering “We are all Brad” and cracking myself up, and now I can’t stop.

    Wouldn’t it be great if there was a live on-line customer service place to help you reset your brain?

  22. Teresa in Chicago

    I am on Roomba #2. I think all the dog hair in my house killed the first one. And I’m pretty sure I also spoke with Brad!

    Whatever you have to go through, they are SO worth it. Best gift I ever gave myself. And you really did get a great deal – new robots for old, and “free” filters! You made out like a bandit.

    I gotta admit, though – I hadn’t heard about keeping the battery in the refrigerator! ROFLMBO!!!

  23. Heather

    We registered for a Roomba for our wedding but so far no one’s bought it for us. (wedding is in 2 days) With 2 cats and 2 giant dogs and hardwood floors throughout I think it’ll be the first thing we buy when we get back from our honeymoon! :)

  24. Dea

    Haven’t you mentioned before how you always are able to score some crazy deal when you are shopping. Did you not just do it again. Please can you come and touch me to pass on some of the luck. Or… tell me where you went in San Jose and I will go and rub down all of the places you were in hopes of getting some of that Mir Magic.

  25. April

    “I am taking directions from someone who doesn’t know how to spell refrigerator. WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE.”

    He/It also spelled comfortable like this: “comfertable.”

  26. Susan

    “I’m thinking that inability to locomote other than in a teeny neverending circle is going to be problematic, from a cleaning standpoint.”

    Hmm. That explains some things about my own housekeeping problems.

  27. Charlotte

    Congrats on getting such a great deal! You will be glad to have the extra filters. And a working Roomba ;)

  28. Kathryn, DYM

    I cannot tell you how nice it is to see a link to All Your Base Are Belong to Us. It’s been so LONG! Goodluck with your new boyfired…erm…I mean roomba.

  29. Shiz

    That is the BEST blog-post title, EVAH.

  30. Gillian

    If I tell Brad the noises I am making will he be able to tell me why in the hell I came into the kitchen? Spiffy post!

  31. Toph

    I find myself in an eerily similar situation to the hapless Mir… My (Recon) Roomba arrived today and, after working properly for roughly 3 minutes, started the DEATH SPIRAL. It eventually stops and beeps. I checked the resistance of the drive wheels and they seem to be normal. (signalling a possible software glitch?)I do plan to call first thing in the morning and speak with the Wunderkind, Brad. I have heard other tales of iRobot’s willingness to replace Recons with new ones, we’ll see what kind of mood I catch Brad in… All Hail the 90 day Warranty!

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