Dyson Announces the City DC26

Dyson DC26 Vacuum CleanerWell, it’s not a robot, but it’s a curious vacuum cleaner, and seeing as how the Dyson robot vacuum cleaner (the DC06) has yet to appear, maybe now that there’s a really tiny Dyson, the DC06 is closer to becoming a reality?

The DC26 is the smallest and lightest Dyson ever created, and I guess that’s saying something because the company has a reputation for building huge vacuum cleaners. According to Dyson it was designed with Japanese homes in mind, and is a snap to maneuver and operate. Obviously, this would also be a great gadget for hip city people who live in apartments or condos, because it won’t take up much storage.

This tiny vacuum uses Dyson’s patented Root Cyclone technology, which has been proven to be better at sucking up dust than any other vacuum. Root Cyclone technology is what makes Dyson vacuum cleaners so effective. Unlike conventional vacuums which use bags, the Root Technology uses several levels of centrifugal force to spin dust, dirt, hair and debris out of the air. as a result, they don’t loose suction as a result of the bag (or filter) filling up. The DC26 also features the new V-Ball technology which makes for smooth rolling, easy maneuvering, and also helps keep the cleaner head at the ideal height from the floor to optimize suction.

So if you’re looking at the photo and wondering how the vacuum is going to work, it’s a canister vacuum cleaner. So the part in the photo is what you plug a hose into. Then there are various attachments, including a cleaning head that you can use to vacuum with. In Japan, there are three models. They are the DC26 Turbinehead Entry, the DC26 Turbinehead Complete and the DC26 Motorhead Complete

Apparently, to make such a small vacuum cleaner with Dyson’s Root Cyclone vacuum, the designers couldn’t just miniaturize the parts and expect it to work. The engineers found that they needed to balance all aspects of the vacuum cleaner, its weight, size, and durability, with the amount of space that is needed to maintain the airflow needed for cyclone cleaning. To do this, Dyson says:

“It took us five years to painstakingly compress and rebuild every single component before we had a machine that was a third smaller than its predecessor, yet could still tackle dirt like bigger machines.”

This vacuum cleaner won the Japanese 2009 Good Design Awards Gold Award in the Living category. The cleaner weighs a little more than seven and a half pounds, and will fit in a space the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The exact dimensions are: Width 320 mm — Height 266 mm — Depth 205 mm. Apparently, it’s also amazingly durable, having survived being dropped on a hard floor over 5000 times (presumably from more than a few inches) and also being banged against a wall 10,000 times. That’s quite a bit of abuse. The Dyson City DC 26 is already available in Japan and will be sold in the U.K. soon. The U.K. price will be the equivalent of around $400. I won’t be buying this one, but feel the need to repeat that I’m really dreaming of one of these powered by a robot. Yeah! Let’s go Dyson robot vacuum cleaner!

Sparky Jr. DIY Telepresence Robots

In Progress Sparky Jr.Sparky Jr. is a website dedicated to providing support for robot enthusiasts to create their own DIY telepresence robots. Telepresence (or TP, as insiders refer to it) is technology for enabling people to see and hear distant locations, usually through a computer screen. The Sparky Project takes it a step further by presenting a design for a robot that can provide a mobile platform for telepresence. This platform uses Skype for the video connection, a Mac Mini for the brains, and an iRobot Create to get around. After that, you just need a battery, some speakers, a microphone, webcam, and some other miscellaneous hardware, and you’re ready to go.

The Sparky Jr website hosts instructions, software, parts lists, and templates, as well as a forum, member pages, and instructional videos. Among other places, the Sparky project has been featured in Make Magazine, Modern Marvels, the San Francisco MOMA, and the San Jose Museum of Art.

The man behind Sparky Jr is Marque Cornblatt. I got the opportunity to ask Marque some questions about the Sparky project. Here it is.

RVC: It looks like you standardized on the iRobot Create for a base. Why?

The original bot had a custom welded base and drive train from a motorized wheelchair.  This is a big, fast and robust platform, but heavy and tricky to build for many people.  The Create is a great, inexpensive platform that is easy to work with lightweight, sensor-laden and versatile.  I looked at other, more “serious” robot platforms, but they cost many hundreds or thousands of dollars.

RVC: While we’re on the topic of standards, why the Mac OS?

I use PCs and Macs but prefer Mac.  the choice of the Mac Mini onboard the bot sealed the deal.  Sparky will have a PC version of the software soon so users can choose their own preference.

RVC: We are already seeing telepresence robots in industrial, law enforcement and military applications. Mostly in cases where it is too dangerous to send humans. Do you see any different future applications that may be just around the corner? (Especially applications for consumers?)

Like so much new tech, it gets developed and deployed for military and law enforcement first and eventually trickles down to consumers.  Telepresence is the same.  Ultimately I see TP uses in educational environments, museums (as tour guides) and a wide range of social and entertainment activities.  Maybe the biggest use is for chatting with and interacting with babies and young children when the parent is at work or on vacation.  Sparky would never be a complete babysitter, but can allow a distant parent to get face-to-face with the child on the floor and chat from anywhere in the world.  That is a powerful tool for parents.

RVC: It seems like there are already some off-the-shelf telepresence packages available, or coming soon. Can you tell us advantages of building a Sparky Jr. over one of those?

Over the years, I’ve watched as several companies tried to bring TP to consumers (HeadThere, Anybot, Rovio, ConnectR, Spykee).  These products usually fall into 2 categories:

1) WAY too expensive.  With prices ranging from $5000-$250,000   Sparky costs aprox. $1000 to build

2) Underpowered.  Many support 1-way video only or only present a still image, which is not as useful as true face-to-face video communication.

Also, these off-the-shelf bots offer nothing in the way of user customization.  The Sparky design can be almost any size or shape bot the user wants (hint:  Wait until Apple releases their tablet and you’ll see a new Sparky design soon afterwards).

RVC: How much use does the Sparky Jr. software make of the iRobot Create’s sensor data?

Sparky uses the bumper and edge data to control movement.  The bot will override a drive command if the bumpers are activated or senses an edge or staircase.  Also, we add new features all the time.  Next up is homing so the bot can find the recharging base without human intervention, and some autonomous routines for home security (imagine Sparky roaming the house while you’re at work.  It records any unusual movement or activity and actually emails of Skypes you with live updates).

RVC: Can you build a Sparky Jr. on a Roomba vacuum cleaner, or is it better to use a iRobot Create for the platform?

I believe that any roomba with a serial connection (most of them) will work.  You may need to dissasemble part of the shell to access it on some models.  Others have a convenient removable cover.  Another nice aspect of the Create is that there is extra space where the vacuum guts would go.  This extra space is filled with components that would otherwise be strapped on and bulging.

RVC: Do you have any plans to add any sort of haptics to Sparky Jr? If so, what do you think would be the most useful application for haptics in telepresence?

I don’t, but I encourage others to experiment.  The reason I stay away is about identity and technology.  Generally, people want robots to “do their work” for them and many bots are being developed as workers (lifting, carrying, fetching).  I have always viewed Sparky as an equal, not a servant and putting grippers or arms on the bot would encourage the use of Sparky as a labor-saving device.  I hope to establish the idea that a machine-human hybrid is not subservient or inferior to organic people.

RVC: Any future plans or dreams of where to go with this project in the near future?

My ultimate goal with this project is to share it with others and build a community of user/makers.  That is why I set up Sparky Jr. with all open-source software and links to hardware and templates and videos.  Ultimately I hope to see a world full of custom build TP ‘bots based on the basic Sparky design.  Where the community takes the idea  is up to them, and I can’t wait to see some of the other versions that people come up with.

Many thanks to Marque for answering my questions. If you are interested in the project, you should go to the Sparky Jr. website, sign up, and take a look around. If you have a little extra time you should also check out another one of Marque’s websites, Guns ‘n’ Gardens.

Competition for the iRobot Scooba: Evolution Robotics Mint

Mint Robot Floor SweeperLater note: Click here for our review of the Mint Automatic Cleaner. In case you’re not sure what this site is about, it’s about robots that clean. It’s actually mostly about robot vacuum cleaners, but lumped into that I think it’s fair to include other robot cleaning devices. And it’s been a busy week for robotic cleaning. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is going in Las Vegas, and today Evolution Robotics Inc. announced their new venture into the robot floor cleaning market, Mint. Mint is designed to be an automatic cleaner for hard surface floors. It can wet mop or dust using cleaning cloths such as the Swiffer dry and wet cloths. Pledge also has such cloths. So you just pop a cloth on it, put it on the floor, press a button, and let the robot take over.

Paolo Pirjanian, the CEO of Evolution Robotics, had this to say. “Similar to how the once manual chores of washing dishes or doing laundry evolved with the invention of the dishwasher and washing machine, floor cleaning has officially been replaced by an automated appliance that achieves the same result, if not better, than previous manual methods. To do the job well, Evolution had to rewrite the book on how floor cleaning is done. Mint packs aerospace-grade technologies that were specifically tailored to deliver consumer with an appliance that cleans like they do, while still providing a hassle-free experience.”

To design the robot cleaner, Evolution brought in Yves Behar, an industrial designer. Together they worked to make a robot that would eschew a “techie” look and fit in better with home decor. They were especially looking to design a robot that would look like an appliance. As you can see, it is very geometric and black and white. Actually, it is quite sexy looking.

Like iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaners, the Mint is autonomous and designed to clean floors without human intervention. The cleaner has different actions depending on whether the cloth is wet or dry. With a wet cloth, the robot uses a “special mopping motion” (back and forth) to dissolve dirt and grime and get the floor cleaner. Mint floor cleaners are guided by Evolution Robotic’s NorthStar technology, which it uses to keep track of where it cleans. This works by projecting a beam on the ceiling that the robot can detect and follow. Like some other robot floor cleaners, it maps out the room and plans where to go next.

Evolution makes the claim that the Mint’s square body will allow it to clean surfaces better than round-bodied cleaners like the iRobot Scooba. The robot holds the cleaning pad in front of it, and has clearance on both sides of the robot behind the pad. The Mint is only 10 inches wide (and appears to be only a few inches tall) which makes it ideal to fit under furniture and between obstacles like chair legs.

Other technologies built into the robot:

  • Like Roombas, Mint has cliff detection so it won’t fall down stairs.
  • Mint will ship with reusable microfiber cloths.
  • Mint robots can detect where rugs are and will avoid driving on them.
  • The robot will adjust for different kinds of floors to ensure that it gets the best cleaning and can still get good traction on the floor.
  • The square shape of the robot enables it to clean into corners and along edges.
  • Battery life is expected to be 3 hours.
  • Since it has no bin to empty, Mint should be lower maintenance.

Mint is expected to be available for order in the third quarter of 2010, and in retail stores by the fourth quarter. Pricing is expected to be below US $250.

And it looks like a dinner mint would if it was a robot.