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Robot Cleaners: All Pool Types

Self-contained, low voltage electric pool cleaners are not new, but have been used since the early 1960’s. Common brand names include Aquabot, Aquavac, Dolphin and SmartPool. Robotic pool cleaners are also made by Hayward, Pentair and Zodiac. The term ‘robotic’ comes from their use of motors, chips and sensors.

How Robotic Pool Cleaners Work

A transformer is plugged into a wall outlet and a 50 ft long (length varies by cleaner) cord from the unit plugs into the transformer. The transformer takes 110 volts from your outlet and "transforms" it, or "steps it down" to the much-safer-around-water 24 volts.

The low voltage power operates the cleaner by powering two stepper or DC brushless motors; a pump motor which draws debris into the unit's filter, and a drive motor which moves the unit around the pool. The pump motor draws water from beneath the unit, and discharges it at the top of the unit. In addition to vacuuming the pool, the pump motor keeps the unit pressed firmly to the floor or wall. The drive motor propels the robot cleaner over the pool surfaces. It is connected through a gear train to power the belts and tracks, which rotate two transverse cylindrical rollers to brush and scrub the pool surfaces.

More elaborate robotic cleaners are computer chip controlled or use sensor bars or infrared scanners to adjust to the transition of floor to wall, and a few robots can climb to the water line and scrub the tile. Some even have radio remote controls so you can steer the unit from a lounge chair!

Advantages to Robotic Pool Cleaners

Being that robotic cleaners are the only type of automatic pool cleaners not attached in any way to the pool's circulation system, they produce no resistance or back pressure on the pool filter system. The pool filter is not required to be operating, and many recommend operating the cleaner with the pool filtration system off, to allow suspended particles to settle to the floor while the cleaner is operating.

A specific advantage of owning a robot pool cleaner is their self-contained filter, which is easily cleaned. The onboard filter bag or cartridge has the ability to filter down to 2 microns. Robot cleaners also do quite well with their pool coverage and speed, although not all units can climb walls.

Disadvantages to Robotic Pool Cleaners

On the downside, the cost of a robotic pool cleaner can be more than suction or pressure side cleaners. They are somewhat heavy to handle, and some repairs can be costly. And they may not be the best choice for heavy debris, with large sticks, leaves or acorns, or for pools with uneven surfaces, beach entry or steep slopes.

Jet Propulsion Pool Cleaners

A new type of robotic pool cleaners, known as Jet pool cleaners are still very much robotic, but with high flow and a simpler design with fewer parts. Jet cleaners are available at a lower price point than original robotic pool cleaner designs, and have gained a strong foothold in the marketplace. Jet cleaners operate with a low voltage, DC pump that draws water up into the vacuum port, and discharges the water through jets that assist in cleaning and also propel the four wheels of the unit. This new technology has lowered the price for entry level robotic pool cleaners, with many models now priced below $400.

Aboveground vs. Inground Robot Pool Cleaners

In all categories of pool cleaners, there are inground models and aboveground models. The main difference is in cleaning power and hose length. Above ground pool robot cleaners do not need to climb walls, as the 90 degree angle is impossible to transition. In ground robot cleaners are designed to climb walls, steps and slopes, which requires more power and more parts to accomplish. There are a few hybrid cleaners that will work on both inground and aboveground pools, cleaning the floor and part of the transition to the wall. Most above ground robotic cleaners will get stuck in the deep end, if used in an inground pool.

Robotic pool cleaner troubleshooting

Poolcenter.com is a service center for Aquabot cleaners. Listed below are some common troubleshooting tips from our help file.

Robot pool cleaner does not move?

Is the indicator light glowing on the transformer? If not, be sure that transformer is turned on and that the 3 volt fuse is not blown (the indicator light can be glowing even though the fuse is blown). Check the electrical outlet with another electrical appliance to be sure that power is available. If the power is available, and the fuse is good try wiggling the power cord plug from the unit to the transformer. Older units may begin to short out at the plug; a new plastic female plug is available.

Inspect the unit itself while it's partially underwater. Is the pump motor receiving power? Is there water gushing out of the top of the unit? This would indicate that power is reaching the unit. Is the pulley on the drive belt side turning? If the pulley is not moving this could indicate a shorted drive motor or a corroded drive T, which would also require motor replacement.

Are the drive belts tight and in good repair? Drive belts become stretched and weaken over time. If your belts are "skipping" and are not locked into the grooves of either the drive pulley or the wheel tubes they may need to be replaced. Check that the wheel tubes are in proper position with bushings in place on either end. If the tubes are not straight the drive belts will not be tight. Drive Tracks also can be checked. These are the treads that contact the pool surface. Over time they will wear down their raised pads. If they are loose, check that all of the wheel tube end bushings are in place.

Check the pins on the end of wheel tubes, and the bushings in the side plates. If any pins or bushings are missing, this will drastically affect the tracking of the cleaner, and it may stop moving altogether.

Do not pull the unit towards the side of the pool, or lift the unit out of the pool by the power cord, which can damage the cord, breaking it inside the casing. Instead, reach into the pool and lift the unit only by the handle.

Aquabot does not pump?

If the unit moves, but does not pick up any debris, lift the unit up near the surface of the water. Does water gush out of the top? If not, the pump motor may be shorted. Unplug the unit and pull it out of the water. Remove the vent cap on top of the unit and check that the impeller does not have string or hair wound around the base. Turn the impeller by hand to check spin. Plug in the unit and check spin. If there is no spin the pump is probably shorted. Another indication that the pump motor is not working properly is if the unit won't climb the walls very far before falling off. The pump motor provides the suction from the inflow and pressure from the outflow that is necessary for wall climbing.

AquaVac Tigersharks have a one piece motor assembly that serves the dual purpose of a drive motor for propelling the unit and a pump motor to do the vacuuming and provide wall suction during climbing. All motors for robotic units are not meant to be serviceable, and they are replaced whole.

Robotic cleaner does not vacuum well?

Some debris can be too large for robotic cleaners, which tend to perform better with smaller debris. If you have large leafed trees nearby, after storms you may need to use a leaf rake or leaf master to get the larger debris, before letting your robotic pool cleaner do the fine clean-up of the pool.

As a robot pool cleaner fills with dirt, its vacuum power or suction will decrease, and this is usually a sign that you need to clean out the internal filter bag or cartridges. Either one can be quick rinsed in a skimmer, or hosed for a more thorough cleaning.

If you filter is clean and your Aquabot still passes over dirt, make sure that the bottom assembly is tight, and that you are not missing any intake valve flaps that most models use. These flaps are important also to prevent debris from falling out when the unit shuts off or when you lift the cleaner out of the pool.

Aquabot cord has shorted out?

The cord used on most robotic pool cleaners can become damaged by dog bites, lawnmowers or other such mishaps, or it can break inside the casing, at the weak point where it is attached to the cleaner. Pulling the cleaner out of the water with the cord can cause the cord to stretch and break over time.

Often the symptom is that the cleaner is not moving at all, but you notice if you wiggle the cord that the pumps and tracks begin to move. The solution is to shorten the cord by 1-2’, and reattach the cord to the drive motor, using wire terminal connectors. Use additional wire clamps to secure the cord to the top of the unit and the handle.

Related Product Pages:

Robotic Pool Cleaners
Robotic Pool Cleaner Parts

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How to select an automatic pool cleaner
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