Lasers, sensors and robots, oh my: Some robot vacuums move and clean much better than others
All robot vacuums will automatically clean your floors.
The way one model navigates through a room from another though can be very different.
That has a big impact on how long and how well a machine cleans your home.
To find out exactly how robot vacuums navigate obstacles in the real world.
We built this test room.
Inside are objects and challenges designed to mimic what a robot will encounter as it cleans a room.
That includes larger furniture like sofas or dressers, smaller things like lamps or tables and chair legs, and even surface irregularities like carpets.
Transitions between flooring and electrical cords.
A camera mounted above captures a bird's eye view of all of the action.
From there we can figure out the path each vacuum takes during its cleaning cycle.
This system also allows us to calculate how much of the floor a machine actually covers and the time it takes to do it.
There are three types of systems robotic vacuums typically used to navigate a space.
The first is a simple collection of collision will brush and Cliff sensors.
They tell robots when they hit objects so they can change course or avoid falls.
The downside is that they operate in a random fashion with incomplete floor coverage and can take a long time to run.
Other robots have the basic array of sensors but navigate with the additional aid of visual sensors.
Called v slam or visual simultaneous location and mapping.
These optical systems can identify landmarks on the ceiling as well as judge the distance between walls.
They also confirm the vacuums relative position in a room in real time and create maps as they clean.
Robots that navigate this way tackle rooms more efficiently and systematically than ones that use random motion.
As a result, they can cover the same area in a shorter time with better coverage.
iRobot's current line of Roombas, such as the i7+ and the s9+, have this kind of navigation system.
The same is true of some Ecovacs models.
However they have a few drawbacks since their optical sensors need at least some amount of ambient light present.
They have trouble finding their way in completely dark rooms and you'll pay extra for these more intelligent robots too.
Another way robot vacuums can sense their environment is with Lidar.
That's short for Light Detection and Ranging all neato but VAX use this method plus high end eco vac D bots in this sophisticated system to base lasers illuminate objects to figure out their location and distance vacuums equipped with Lidar can also detect the size and shape of things in their path.
They actively scan their surroundings, too.
That's why these machines tend to cover floors with extreme efficiency.
And thanks to the SLAM, or Simultaneous Location and Mapping algorithm, they also create detailed maps on the fly.
You can perform useful interactions with those maps, too.
For example, you can drop virtual boundaries within them, or make restricted zones at will for the robot to avoid.
These vacuums also navigate in the dark if necessary.
Just remember, you'll pay a premium for these machines.
They occupied the ultra high end rung of the market.
Some robot vacuums use everything but the kitchen sink to navigate.
That includes brush Cliff will and optical sensors as well as laser emitters at the moment these products are rare and the ones we've seen so far like the electro Luxe pure I nine Have looked a little shaky.
With so many tools in their arsenal though they have the potential to get around with uncanny levels of automation and intelligence.
Software matters too many robot vacuums are programmed to spend extra time on dirty spots, corners and wall edges.
Whether these abilities are present, active or turned off by default Will affect a robot's floor coverage and clean time as well.