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Dyson enters robot vacuum clear fray — will it be the first model to actually work?

Sun, 07 Sep 2014

Robots that clean house are surely the pinnacle of civilisation. 

So it was with some disappointment a couple of years ago that I tried out a Roomba from iRobot, the market leader in robot vacuum cleaners.

It sucked, but not in the way I wanted. Apart from the obvious drawbacks (unable to clean corners, the hassle of placing wireless sensors to border its activity, a Dalek-like inability to negotiate stairs), it got confused about chairs and power cables. It was so-so at cleaning, and prone to minor breakdowns and its tiny bin had to be emptied all the time. 

Not fantastic given iRobot's top-of-the-line model doesn't give you much change out of $1000. 

And it was with more disappointment that I read a Wall Street Journal hands-on review of the latest robot vaccum cleaners on April 29 this year (including the latest Roomba). The short story: all of them failed. None of them had the suction to get sand out of medium shag carpet, among other problems.

Hope could be at hand. Friday, Dyson announced it will release the Dyson 360 Eye next year.

Some things are familiar, such as the price (expected to be around $US1000).

But James Dyson says it will have better suction than other robot vacuum cleaners on the market, which he describes as "gimmicks".

It all features tank tracks for getting over minor obstacles (such as a berm between a carpeted room and a room with a wooden floor).

And a camera-based navigation system When the 360 Eye begins its cleaning cycle, it takes a picture of its base station, then moves to what it thinks is the center of the room. As it moves, it shoots 30 frames per second from the top-mounted 360-degree camera, and analyzes every image, composing a real-time map of the room. It detects obstacles with the camera as well as with infrared sensors located on the bottom of the machine. It moves in a squared-off spiral, taking care to just barely overlap its previous path.

Bin capacity is 0.4 litres, and the Eye 360 weighs 2.37kg. It's lithium ion battery delivers a 20-30 minute run time, the the company says.

And you'll be able to remotely monitor or control it thought a smartphone app.

Dyson has a track record for reshaping various markets with products that actually work (think it's hand dryer), so hopefully its founder's 16-year,  £28 million effort to create a robot vacuum clear that actually works will also pay off. 

A spokeswoman for Dyson said the 360 Eye should be available in NZ late 2015.

I'm willing to welcome our new robot overlords.

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Dyson enters robot vacuum clear fray — will it be the first model to actually work?