Tag Archive for 'Neato Robotics'

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Robot Review: The Neato Robotics XV-11 and XV-15

Neato Robotics XV-11 in box

We got our hands on a Neato Robotics XV-11 recently, which gave us the opportunity to test it out, and also to compare it with an iRobot Roomba (review of 780 model here) and the Evolution Mint Cleaner (see our review of the original Mint and the new 5200 Model). The good news is that there are some key things that the XV-11 does a lot better than the competition. Does it beat the other two in all areas? Not really. BUT depending on what you’re looking for in an automated vacuum cleaner, the Neato may the robot for you. Read on to find out what we discovered.

Besides the robot vacuum itself, in the box you get a manual, quick-start instructions, a charging dock (with power cord), an extra filter, and a roll of brown keep-out strip (which is 15 feet long, unwound). So the robot really comes with everything you need to get started, which is excellent. The manual is 54 pages long, is very detailed and clearly written.

There are a couple of things that make the XV-11 stand out from the competition. For one, it uses what Neato Robotics calls RPS Technology, which is their mapping system that is built into the robot. It uses a laser rangefinder to build a map of everything in the room so that it can navigate around your house and find its way back to its dock. Because it maps the room, it can clean methodically, doing the perimeter of the room and also going back and forth in rows. Because it works this way, it cleans rooms more quickly than a Roomba will, and thus can afford to put more power into the suction of the vacuum. When you watch the vacuum cleaner go around a room, you’ll notice that it kind of divides a room up into sub-spaces and does those spaces one by one. The XV-11 is also aware of doorways. So it will automatically stay in one room until it finishes vacuuming it, and then it will move on to the next room.

Another welcome difference is the LCD display. You and the robot will use this display to communicate with each other. Around the display are five buttons. The most obvious of these is the red Start button, which is pretty much the “Clean” button. On the right side of the display are the following buttons: Up, Down, and Back. Below the display is a Select button. So basically, you use the up, down, back, and select buttons to navigate through the menus on the robot. The XV-11 can be scheduled, and you use this interface to do the scheduling. Setting the time and scheduling the robot is very easy. If you can set a digital alarm clock, then you shouldn’t have any trouble with the XV-11. It’s also nice having a display where the robot can communicate with you. There is a battery level indicator, and the robot will also display messages there. For instance, when the robot is finished vacuuming the room, and is headed back to the dock, it displays a message which tells you that it’s looking for the dock.

XV-11 from the bottom

Another thing that is obviously different about the XV-11 is that the front end is square. When the vacuum was first introduced, the tech press made a big deal out of how the front end was square and claims were made that this shape would make the robot be able to get into corners better than the competition. Unfortunately, as you’ll see in the review video here, the XV-11 doesn’t do a great job of the corners. One would expect the robot to drive into the corner and then back out. Instead, it sort of curves through the corners. Also, it lacks a spinning side brush, so it doesn’t really get that inch of space between the edge of the robot and where the beater begins.

Neato Robot Dust Bin

Some other nice things built into the Neato Robot: The dust bin is built into the top of the robot, and is very easy to remove, empty, and replace. There is a cleverly built-in carrying handle on the top at the front of the robot. As mentioned above, the robot comes with a roll of barrier strip. So what you can do is cut these to length and use them to keep the robot out of various areas. This is pure genius. I’ve got a space under my desk where the cables for my computer, monitor, mouse, and peripherals all hang out. Keeping the robot out of that area is as simple as laying down one of these strips.

This video will show you what I mean about the XV-11 not really doing a great job with corners. In the video, the robot does kind of bump into the edge of the doorway, and then kind of curves through the corner, instead of driving into it, and then backing up and turning like one might expect. This is the way it does all corners. Watch the robot as it navigates around a table leg. This illustrates the really seriously different thing about the XV-11 that nobody seems to talk about: It doesn’t knock into your furniture. Before anybody gets all excited, I should say that yes, it will bump into walls and furniture every once in a while. But in comparison to the Roomba, which can really smack into things, the XV-11 mostly avoids touching your furniture.

The dirty little secret of all robot floor cleaners is that they require room prep before you set them loose. Things like clothes, toys, or any other small objects that may or may not be sucked up into the vacuum should be cleaned up. Cords need to be tucked away (or moved behind barriers), tassels and curtain pulls may be in danger if they hang to the floor, and some of your mats and rugs may simply refuse to play nice with your robot. Despite all your best preparation, the robot will find a cord sooner or later, and unfortunately the XV-11 doesn’t react well to them. It will suck a cord up, mangle it, and often try to pull whatever is connected to the cord away with it. (It’s fair to say that this will happen with Roombas, too, except that the new 700 Series Roombas actually detect cords and spit them out.)

The XV-11 is a half inch taller than a Roomba, and thus can’t get under everything a Roomba can. Also, curiously, it will not go under anything it can’t see under. So if your bed has a skirt, the skirt won’t stop most floor cleaning robots, but to the XV-11, the skirt looks like a wall. So a bed skirt, if it is laser “eye” level to the robot, will keep the vacuum from going under the bed. Depending on your situation, this might be a good thing, but it bears mentioning.

Maintenance: The Neato doesn’t seem to get hair and other debris wound around its brush bearings much. Although the XV-11 does need a little maintenance now and then, it’s pretty hassle-free.

Finally, in several months of testing, the Neato robot vacuum cleaner found its way back to the dock 100% of the time. I’ve read other reviews that don’t report this success rate, but that’s what we experienced.

Tested with Roomba, Mint, XV-11 to compare and contrast

We did a LOT of testing with XV-11. We ran tests to compare it to the Roomba and also to compare it with the Mint cleaner. We found that there wasn’t really a substantial difference in cleaning between the different floor cleaners. In other words, if you cleaned a room with one of the robots and then followed it up with another one, the second robot would come back without much dirt. There would always be some dirt on the second run, but never enough to make us stop and take notice.

Now you may be thinking to yourself that it sounds like there isn’t any compelling reason to choose the Neato Robotics XV-11 over the competition. But there are two places where it really shines. As I said in the intro, it depends on your situation. First off, the XV-11 is a master at cleaning multiple rooms. If you have thoroughly prepped all the rooms in your house, you can set the XV-11 running, and it will vacuum an entire floor with no human intervention and no need for arranging lighthouses (or, in the case of the Mint, Northstar cubes). When used with a charging base, it will recharge itself if necessary, and start off where it last left off. Second, the XV-11 doesn’t bang into furniture and walls. It’s not perfect, so it will gently bump things here and there, but it is much less likely to leave streaks on your furniture and walls.

So there you have it. The XV-11 does a good job of vacuuming, maps rooms as it goes, can be scheduled, requires less maintenance, comes with handy barrier strips and a charging base, doesn’t bang into the furniture much at all, and is capable of cleaning a whole story of a house in one go with a minimum of fuss.

More Information

Neato XV-12 at Engadget
Neato Robots Reviewed at Robot Buying Guide
Neato Review at IEEE AUTOMATON

Long Exposure Robotic Vacuum Art

iRobot Roomba Long Exposure

(Updated January 30, 2012: Added the Dirt Devil.) I finally got the time, equipment, and software together to make long exposure photos of the different floor cleaning robots to look at the differences between the three. So, above is a long exposure of an iRobot Roomba cleaning up the “hall” in my house. It’s about eight feet long and maybe 5 feet wide. There is a furnace return in the upper left corner that the Roomba avoids, thinking it’s a cliff.

Neato Robotics XV-11 long exposure

Here you can see the orderly progression of how a Neato Robotics XV-11 cleans an area this small. It does the perimeter, and then precisely vacuums the area inside. You can’t tell from the photo, but the line in the middle is actually from two paths. One going from left to right, and the other from right to left.

Mint Cleaner Long Exposure

This is my favorite of the bunch. The Evolution Mint Cleaner goes back and forth, and then does the perimeter, but much more meticulously than the Neato robot. So it leaves quite a bumpy trail around the room.

Dirt Devil RoomMate Light Trails

Dirt Devil RoomMate

The Dirt Devil RoomMate runs around a room pretty much like a Roomba does, with alternating behaviors. It does random bouncing around, spirals, and wall following. In a small area like this, it spends a lot more time doing wall following than anything else. Like all the rest of the robots, it’s not a big fan of the furnace return.

Neato Robotics XV-11 long exposure

Here’s a photo with the lights on, following a Neato XV-11 through the room again. It took a different way to do it this time, going up and down instead of back and forth.

Did I mention that I made these photos with an Olloclip fisheye lens? I don’t usually talk about things other than robots on this blog, but this thing is really cool. It’s a three-in-one add-on lens for the iPhone 4. It has a fish-eye lens, a wide angle lens, and a crazy macro lens. Here are some other photos I’ve taken recently.

Ludisia discolor Jewel Orchid Macro Shot

Ludisia discolor 'ambrosia' Jewel Orchid Macro Shot

Daylily Olloclip Macro Shot

Water Lily Flower Olloclip Macro Shot

New Robot Vacuum Cleaner: Neato

Neato VX-11 Robot VacuumIt looks like the iRobot Roomba is going to have some more competition. A company named Neato Robotics has introduced their own robot, named the XV-11, due out in January 2010 (estimated price is US $399). The XV-11 robot vacuum resembles a Roomba in that it is short, but instead of being round, it has two square corners in the front of the robot. Neato explains that these make the robot more able to vacuum into corners.

While that’s the most obvious difference, it looks like there are others worth noting. The XV11 users lasers and a mapping technology known as SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) to create a map of any room before it starts to vacuum. The vacuum will start by circling the perimeter of a room to create a map. Large rooms are broken up into fifteen foot square areas. A laser on the top of the robot is used to identify walls, furniture, and doorways. Then the robot vacuum concentrates on path finding and obstacle avoidance. Once the initial map is made, the robot will start at one end of the room and methodically go back and forth across the room like it’s swimming laps to cover all the space. This is in contrast to the iRobot Roomba, which uses a few different “behavioral” algorithms to cover all the floorspace in a room, and which works in a more chaotic manner.

Unlike the Roomba vacuums, which use virtual walls and lighthouses to control how the robots go from room to room, the Neato can distinguish doorways. So you can set it in “Room Mode” and it will stay in one room. If you want it to clean the whole house, you set it to “House Mode” and it will go from room to room. The vacuum is designed to clean each room completely before moving on to the next.

Like a Roomba, the Neato XV11 can locate its charger and automatically charge. Some other features it shares with Roombas are: cliff detection, scheduling, a removable bin, and variable floor vacuuming. So it can vacuum linoleum, carpet, etc. The Neato robot is much more loud than the Roombas, which the company explains is due to the fact that the vacuum has more suction. The Neato vacuum also has a LCD display so you can see its status. Battery life is estimated at an hour.


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