Get started with… Robot Vacuums
Clean floors without the hassle? Well, that’s the theory at least
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.