Robotic Vacuums

Virtual Walls vs Lighthouses – What’s are the Differences?

(Last Updated On: April 15, 2017)

If you own an iRobot Roomba robot vacuum, then you are probably familiar with virtual walls and lighthouses.

These are devices that keep your Roomba out of a particular section that you do not want it to go into.  In other words, these are navigation control devices, functioning to block your Roomba from crossing its beam, effectively allowing your robot vacuum to concentrate on the areas that you want it to clean.

There are actually three different types of navigation control devices that you can get with your Roomba:

  • Virtual Walls
  • Virtual Wall Lighthouses
  • Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barriers.

What are these and how does one differ from the other? Read on and find out.

But first, what navigation control device do you have?

Each Roomba model includes a navigation control device in the box.  What each Roomba model includes right out of the box is summarized in the table below:

Virtual wallsYesYesYes2Yes221
Virtual wall lighthousesYesYes2YesYesYesYesYes
Dual mode virtual wall barriers21YesYes1YesYesYes

Earlier models, such as the Roomba 614 and Roomba 620, do not include navigation control devices but you can buy a virtual wall for them and they would be able to work with it.

What are Virtual Walls?

Just looking at the name, you could easily guess what a virtual wall is.  It is a device that acts like an invisible wall that your robot vacuum cannot cross.

As a navigation control device, a virtual wall gives off an infrared light that Roomba robot vacuums will be able to detect.  Once it “sees” this light, it will not cross it.  This is a good way to make the Roomba stay in one room rather and keep it from going into another area.  For instance, if you want your Roomba robot vacuum to concentrate on cleaning your living room rug, you can set up a virtual wall so that it does not go beyond it.

Or, if your living room has an open archway that leads to the dining room, you can use the virtual wall to keep your Roomba inside your living room.  You just put the virtual wall on the outside of the doorway or archway that you want to block.

This navigation control device is especially helpful if you have valuable vases or other breakable items that you don’t want disturbed.  You can also set up your virtual wall to keep your Roomba away from shelves, coat racks, and other items that may not be stable enough.

One virtual wall can block off an opening that’s up to 7 feet wide.

A virtual wall creates a barrier that is cone shaped, so the infrared light gets wider the farther it gets from the virtual wall.

A virtual wall is battery-operated, so you would need to replace the batteries when they run out.  The good news is that you will know when to replace the batteries because the power indicator will flash a green blinking light.  When this happens, make sure that you have replacement batteries on hand.  The virtual wall uses 2 “C” Alkaline batteries, while some models use “D” batteries.

Two modes.  A virtual wall has two modes.  You can create a virtual wall manually by turning it on yourself as soon as you start your cleaning.  The virtual wall will automatically turn itself off after two hours and 15 minutes. You can also have it turn on automatically.

What is a Virtual Wall Lighthouse?

Another navigation control device available for your Roomba robot vacuums is the Virtual Wall Lighthouse.  It has two modes.  One mode is the virtual wall mode where it works just like a virtual wall device in that it blocks your robot vacuum from entering areas and rooms that you do not want it to clean.

It also has a lighthouse mode.  In this mode, the Virtual Wall Lighthouse becomes a guide to help your Roomba clean more thoroughly.  The lighthouse would block other areas to allow your Roomba to clean one part of your room.

After it cleans that area, it then automatically opens another area and lets the robot vacuum clean that.

This is a good way for you to clean more than one room and still make sure that each one of your rooms is thoroughly cleaned. For instance, say there are three rooms in your house – the bedroom, the living room and the dining room.  You can start cleaning the living room then set up the Virtual Wall Lighthouse to block your Roomba from leaving the room.  After it is finished cleaning your living room, the lighthouse will then guide your Roomba to the next room, say the dining room.  After cleaning the dining room, another lighthouse will then open the area to your bedroom.

Like the virtual wall, the Virtual Wall Lighthouse also uses two “C” batteries.  When the robot is powered off and you see a blinking power light, that means it is time to replace the batteries.

What are Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barriers?

Available for iRobot’s best robot vacuum models – the Roomba 980 and the Roomba 960 – the Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barrier is yet another navigation control device.  The Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barrier works like a Virtual Wall Lighthouse in that it blocks your robot vacuum from entering rooms that you do not want it to clean.

One big difference between a virtual wall and the Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barrier is the latter’s halo mode.  In the halo mode, the Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barrier will create a protected zone that the Roomba will avoid.  This is a great option for protecting a small area.  The four-foot halo it creates can protect things in the immediate area.  You can create a halo up to 24 inches from the center of the virtual wall barrier.

This is perfect if you have pets and you do not want your robot vacuum to touch their food bowls.

It can also keep your robot vacuum from going into tight corners or areas where it could trip, and even under certain furniture.

Another difference is that Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barriers can block off doorways as wide as 10 feet, while older virtual walls can only block off doorways that are 7 feet wide.

In short, Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barriers act like virtual walls that block your robot vacuum from leaving the room, while it can also create a restricted area within the room that can protect pet food bowls and other stuff that you do not want disturbed.  The Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barriers use two AA batteries.

The Cheat Sheet: What’s the Difference?

Now that you know that the Virtual Wall, Virtual Wall Lighthouse, and the Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barrier are basically navigation control devices that allow you to get a better clean from your Roomba, let us summarize their key differences.

 Virtual WallVirtual Wall LighthouseDual Mode Virtual Wall Barrier
PriceCheck hereCheck hereCheck here
Compatible with400 Series, Discovery Series, Original Series, 870, 770, 761, 650, 620, 614Some 500 Series models, 780, 790 and 880.500, 600, 700, 800 and 900 Series.
What it isPrevents your Roomba from entering certain areas using an infrared beam.  Beam can block an area up to 8 feet.Uses an infrared beam to guide your Roomba in room to room cleaning. Limits the Roomba in one room until it is cleaned thoroughly and then guides it to the next room.  Also acts as a Virtual Wall.Blocks openings as wide as 10 feet.

The Final Line

Using a Virtual Wall, Virtual Wall Lighthouse, or a Dual Mode Virtual Wall Barrier can help you control where your Roomba cleans and what it does afterwards.

The good news is that these navigation control devices are included free with your purchase of a Roomba, but you can buy more if you want to get more control, especially in bigger rooms, or if you have a lot of areas that you do not want your robot vacuum to get into.

With this comparison, we hope that you would be able to get the right device for your needs.

About the author

Patrick Sinclair

Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn't have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!

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