Get started with… Ro­bot Vacu­ums

Clean floors with­out the has­sle? Well, that’s the the­ory at least

Mac|Life - - CONTENTS - BY alex cox

How to clean your home floors with­out has­sle, us­ing fully pro­grammable ro­bot vac­uum clean­ers.

We are, some­what un­be­liev­ably, al­most a fifth of the way through the 21st cen­tury. Only now is our smart tech start­ing to catch up with the ideas that fu­ture–gaz­ers of the pre­vi­ous cen­tury set out for us: we are en­ter­ing the age of dig­i­tal servi­tude. That’s prob­a­bly a rather grandiose way to set out a look at smart vac­uum clean­ers, but these are ro­bots that roam around our homes do­ing the hard work that we don’t want to.

Ac­cept­ing the help of a ro­bot isn’t a bad thing, as long as you also ac­cept that they’re of­ten a lit­tle im­per­fect. There are in­evitable com­pro­mises to make, more with some ex­am­ples than with oth­ers. This might be down to their logic (or lack of it); it might be down to their abil­ity to cope with vary­ing sur­faces, it might be a case of dif­fer­ent sen­sor ar­rays cop­ing bet­ter with dif­fer­ent rooms, or whether the ac­tual clean­ing hard­ware is de­cent.

Let’s break down ex­actly what makes a good robo­vac. They’re nat­u­rally small; squat enough to slide un­der a cof­fee ta­ble with­out get­ting stuck. Ide­ally, though, they’re also thick enough that they won’t wedge them­selves un­der your sofa. This is a strangely im­por­tant at­tribute. Ro­bot vac­uum clean­ers are sur­rounded by a host of sen­sors — some more than oth­ers, with a va­ri­ety of rea­son­ing ap­plied to their place­ment — and if they don’t hap­pen to sense the pres­ence of a haz­ard, they’ll blun­der into it like the dumb ro­bots they are. The more sen­sors, the bet­ter the in­ter­nal logic, and so the bet­ter the vac­uum will per­form with­out need­ing to be res­cued.

Vac to the fu­ture

But what a robo­vac can see or sense is only the start. A truly good ro­botic cleaner needs even more than a few sen­sors — it needs a good ca­pac­ity for filth, to re­duce the num­ber of times you’ll have to empty its dust con­tainer. It needs a solid mech­a­nism for clean­ing all that muck ef­fec­tively, to avoid be­ing noth­ing more than a noisy dis­trac­tion. And it needs a de­cent level of smarts. ‘Avoid thing’ is one level, but the abil­ity to cre­ate a vir­tual map of your room is quite an­other. A great app is an­other must; while au­toma­tion re­mains a key­word, there are times you’ll want to take more man­ual con­trol. The more in–depth the bet­ter.

There are things you won’t have to do. Charg­ing is a big one — ev­ery­thing we’ve seen in the sec­tor is clever enough to re­turn to its point of ori­gin, dock it­self to get juiced up, and go again. You’ll prob­a­bly need to find a good cor­ner for the charger, though, and if you’re par­tic­u­lar about your in­te­ri­ors that might be a big ask. You might not have to touch the app, if there’s sup­port for a smart as­sis­tant in­volved — though Siri-con­trol­lable bots are few and far be­tween at present.

Then there are things you’ll def­i­nitely have to do, just to make life eas­ier for your new mech­a­nized ser­vant. Nat­u­rally, the dust con­tainer will need to be emp­tied. That is, un­less you ac­quire iRobot's Roomba i7+, which is equipped with Au­to­matic Dirt Dis­posal, whereby the vac emp­ties dirt from its small bin into a big­ger one at­tached to its dock.

Move it or lose it

In some cases, cer­tain bits of fur­ni­ture or rugs will have to be moved or re­moved, just so the cleaner can find its way around. In other cases, you might need to string out bar­ri­ers to stop your helper fling­ing it­self down stairs or go­ing out of bounds; this is par­tic­u­larly true if your vac­uum has no way to cre­ate a vir­tual ring fence around its op­er­a­tions. Some houses, with this in mind, won’t suit a ro­bot vac­uum at all. Some will re­quire one vac­uum per floor, or the ef­fort of repo­si­tion­ing the charger once a week to hit all the rooms it needs to hit.

The sad truth is this: you’ll still need to do some man­ual la­bor. There will be cor­ners a ro­bot vac­uum can­not pos­si­bly reach. There will be messes, how­ever much mus­cle your ro­bot vac­uum car­ries, that you’ll need to tackle your­self. But for con­sis­tency, lux­ury, and cut­ting out a big chunk of that oner­ous clean­ing rou­tine, a ro­bot is per­fect.

We’ve se­lected three to look at on the op­po­site page, rep­re­sent­ing the big­gest brands in the ro­botic mar­ket. Keep an eye out also for a new ro­bot from Dyson — the 360 Heurist (an up­date to the 360 Eye) looks set for the Chi­nese mar­ket ini­tially, but we’d be stunned if it didn’t land on these shores too.

Edge brushes catch dust and debris along room edges.

The low pro­file of ro­bot vacu­ums en­ables them to fit un­der tricky fur­ni­ture so that hard–to–reach ar­eas can be cleaned.

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