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This robot vacuum solves the Roomba's biggest problem: Getting stuck

Armed with sensors and an HD camera, the Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI scans your home as it cleans to sidestep traps like shoes and cords.

The Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI from Ecovacs is quite a sophisticated robot vacuum.
Brian Bennett/CNET

Robot vacuums are handy tools for keeping your home tidy without much effort. But they often get stuck or trapped by common household objects. And that forces you to get off the couch and investigate -- unacceptable. The new Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI from Ecovacs, however, is different. This $800 machine is smart enough to identify potential obstacles and avoid them.

That, according to Ecovacs, is possible because of the T8's sophisticated navigation system. It relies on information collected from lasers and collision and cliff sensors, plus an onboard HD video camera. More importantly, the robot has the intelligence to tie all this data together, then interpret what it sees.

So if there's a pile of dirty clothes on the floor, the T8 will circumvent it. The same goes for shoes, wires and cords, area rugs and oddly designed chairs. At least that's the theory. And I have to say, right now, a brainy cleaning robot sure sounds tempting.  

Like many people, I'm hunkered down staying healthy at home with my family. I won't lie: The chaos and untidiness level around here is getting a little much. That's why I was really curious to see for myself if this smarter vacuum can handle or even improve the situation. Here's how things went.    

A big HD video camera sits on the front of the Ozmo T8.

Brian Bennett/CNET

An eye out for trouble

At first glance, the Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI looks like a lot of other robot vacuum cleaners. It's round, flat and shaped like a pie plate. A turret sticks up from the top of the machine housing a spinning laser that powers the vacuum's lidar navigation subsystem. You'll also find the usual assortment of cliff and collision sensors many vacuums have.

Here's a view of the Neato Botvac D6 Connected using its lidar mapping system in our test room.

Brian Bennett/CNET

What sets the T8 apart are its optics. Robot vacuums with lenses aren't new. Many models have had them for years, including iRobot Roombas and earlier Ecovac Deebots. Those products technically have what's better described as optical sensors, not cameras. Their primary purpose isn't to capture realistic images. They snap pictures to navigate as they move, and use algorithms to tag walls, the ceiling and other reference points. 

The T8 instead boasts a 720p HD camera. This high resolution lets the robot actually see and avoid obstacles. And at the moment, my house is chock-full of these pitfalls. At any given moment there are piles of kids' sneakers, toys, books, paper, you name it, it's scattered everywhere. I'm also fond of hardwood floors, as well as high-pile shag area rugs (don't judge). The latter in particular can be a challenge for even the most robust vacuum cleaners.

Read more: The best cordless vacuum for 2020

It took a while for the Osmo T8 to create a floor plan. While it did, the robot generated reports with advice on where to remove clutter.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Cluttered home, no problem

Getting the Ozmo T8 AIVI acquainted with my home took a lot longer than I thought it would. The first step was to set it up in a room with a free power outlet (my dining room). Next was to have the robot create a map to navigate around my house. It does that by attempting to clean, exploring and learning as it goes. 

The amount of time this takes will vary on the distance covered. Most robot vacuums I've used need two or three cleaning runs to draw up a floor plan. And if it's just one room, like our robot vacuum test room, they complete this in just one 25-minute cleaning cycle.

With the map complete, features like virtual boundaries, no-go areas and cleaning zones were unlocked.

Brian Bennett/CNET

It took five cleaning sessions, each between 90 minutes and 2 hours, for the T8 to fully map my home's main floor. And like other robots, its special capabilities don't become available until after it creates a floor plan. That includes functions like building virtual walls and keep-out zones, cleaning targeted areas and labeling rooms.

Once the Ozmo T8 had its map, however, its navigation was close to flawless. Obstacles and surfaces that often trap other vacuum cleaners, such as high-pile rugs and tangled power cords, didn't faze the T8 one bit. Those are dangers that can foul up even flagship robots like the iRobot Roomba S9 Plus and Neato Botvac D7.

As the Ozmo T8 cleans, it identifies and avoids problem objects.

Brian Bennett/CNET

When cleaning is complete, the robot's app presents a report outlining the potential problem areas it detected. For instance, it identifies any shoes, cords and rugs you might consider tidying away before your next cleaning 

Across eight full cleaning sessions there was just one time the T8 ran into trouble. The machine had somehow encountered a hard plastic pool squid. The dive toy's multiple tentacles proved too much for its main brush, and stopped the robot in its tracks. 

The robot comes with a water tank and cloth pad for wet mopping.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Yeah, it mops too

Another of the Ozmo T8's useful capabilities is its mopping function. There's a water reservoir in the back of the machine, along with a microfiber cloth scrubbing-pad attachment. When both are installed, the T8 can simultaneously vacuum and mop. In this mode, the robot is smart enough to stick to hard flooring and avoid rugs or carpeting.

The microfiber cloth pad sits on the bottom of robot and in the back.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Ecovacs says that the mopping action removes 99.2% of bacteria from floors. I can't confirm that myself. What I can say is that mopping removed any greasy or slippery patches, especially in the kitchen. 

The app crashed a lot.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Glitchy software

For all the Ozmo T8's slick capabilities, its mobile app needs work. I used the app on my Pixel 3 XL running Android 10. Every time I cold-launched the app (not running in the background), it failed to open. I was always successful on the second attempt, but it was annoying. 

The biggest problem was "visual butler" mode. This function supposedly lets you drive the robot to locations in your home while it provides an HD video stream. I could never get it to work, and the video connection always timed out.

Ecovacs said it is aware of the issue and that some units suffer from the glitch. The company plans to address the shortcoming via an upcoming software update. Honestly, I feel it's a minor problem. With so many people stuck at home right now, the demand to monitor your pets remotely is pretty low. And there's always the security risk of adding yet another connected sensor inside your house. 

More cleaning, less hassle

The Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI isn't quite as incredible as its splashy marketing would have you to believe. That said, I'm still quite impressed with how well it gets around, and how little it gets stuck. It means fewer headaches for you. That by itself is a big reason to take a long look at this model. 

Even the fanciest flagship robot vacuum cleaners run into problems a lot more than they should. It's clear to me that the T8 spends more time hunting down dirt than sitting tangled in the corner. And that's intelligence other vacuums would do well to emulate. I'm looking at you, Neato Botvac D7 and iRobot Roomba S9 Plus.

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