Neato Robot Vacuum Is Certainly No Substitute For Manual Vacuuming

So now that we have the entire Neato robot vacuum system including charging dock, it’s time to see how did they perform at the job they were built to do. Not that their performance was important, as I bought my Neato intending to scavenge it for parts and it was only a happy accident to end up with a fully functioning robot vacuum. But before I start having fun with robot experiments, I should at least see how it works in its original capacity. Mostly just from curiosity, but if I’m going to show up at places with a modified robot vacuum, I also expect to be asked by people if it’s worthwhile to buy one to vacuum their home. Those who paid full price for their robot vacuums will have very different expectations from people like Emily and I who picked up our robot vacuums for cheap at a thrift store.

The common wisdom with Roomba robot vacuums is that they still miss a lot of surface area due to their random walk nature. A Neato, with its laser distance scanner, is supposed to provide full ground coverage. In reality, all open spaces are indeed very efficiently covered. However, the laser scanner meant a Neato is less effective at cleaning edges and corners. Because they’re smart enough to not run into edges and corners, a Neato’s cleaning brush never get close to those areas. We can see this most clearly in this picture of a dusty doorway after a Neato vacuuming pass, showing the smooth path it took swerving around a door frame instead of digging in and cleaning out those corners. (Note: my house is not quite as disgusting as the photo implies: the contrast has been exaggerated via Photoshop.)

Neato swerved around door frame high contrast

And naturally a little robot vacuum would not be able to move furniture out of the way. For example, floor under the dining table is not vacuumed, because the dining chairs legs all around the table blocked access. But it turned out the dining table itself was an obstacle. Just as my earlier experiment with Neato scanner had problem seeing certain furniture features, an actual Neato was unable to see the ramp-like shape of my dining table legs and managed to launch itself into an awkward angle and got stuck.

Neato stuck on dining table.jpg

As a home of a tinkerer, my house had many other features unfriendly to robot vacuums. My Neato kept getting itself tangled up in power cords for various AC-powered electronics gadgets, and of course there are piles of stuff all around the house in odd shapes, some of which share the “important features are out of sight of laser scanner” problem with office chair and dining table. There may be homes where a Neato would be a productive little housekeeping worker, but I’m afraid my home is just too much of a hazardous environment for this little Neato to be effective.

Which is great! I now feel less guilty about relieving it of vacuum duty and put it back to work for the reason I bought it: as a chassis for robotics projects. But it was fun to see a Neato in action doing its job. It was enlightening to see its own mapping and routing software at work, a benchmark to compare against for my own code driving this chassis. It is a really endearing little robot, with friendly messages on its LCD screen and my favorite part: the way it cuddles its charging dock. And now that one Neato is back up to full running condition, [Emily] and I will team up and try to get them both running.

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