With a successful all-up system test of Neato XV-21, running on hacked-up battery packs through a full vacuum cycle, we have confidence everything works on this thrift store bargain except for the battery pack. So focus returns to these NiMH battery packs.
The default option is to buy some battery packs specifically built and sold as replacement batteries for a Neato robot vacuum. A straightforward Amazon search for “Neato battery pack” will return this “Amazon’s Choice” item at $30 for 4000mAh NiMH packs.
A tempting choice is to purchase some lithium-ion batteries that would also fit in the Neato battery bay. However, battery packs sold on Amazon are typically designed for very high draw applications like multi rotor aircraft. Batteries designed to survive such use tend to have lower energy density. Thus lithium packs that fit within the bay’s dimensions actually don’t have much significantly higher capacity than 4000mAh.
Another concern with installing lithium batteries is the fact the Neato’s on board charging circuits are designed for NiMH battery cells, which has a different charging profile. Charging lithium cells as if they were NiMH cells risks damaging the lithium cells and possibly lighting them on fire.
There is, however, this item which are lithium replacement packs intended and designed as an upgrade option for Neato vacuums. Not only are they sized appropriately to fit, they also have an integrated battery management system. Presumably, the circuit will make the Neato brain think there’s a NiMH battery pack installed but treat the lithium cells properly. At 4400mAh it offers 10% higher claimed capacity relative to default option, but at over double the cost, the cost/performance ratio is poor.
There is also the option to purchase new NiMH battery cells and rebuild the battery pack myself, reusing all the associated parts from the existing pack. I had expected this to be the lowest-cost option by supplying my own labor, but when I searched for NiMH battery cells in 4/3A form factor with 4000mAh capacity, I was surprised to find that they were selling for more than $3 per cell. There are 6 cells per pack and a Neato requires two packs, for 12 total cells. This means buying raw cells and rebuilding them myself would cost over $36, more than just buying a prebuilt pack from Amazon!
With this little bit of research into lithium upgrade option and rebuild option, it looks like the default $30 option is the best way to go. But before that replacement battery pack arrived, my Neato got a friend!