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Monday - January 17, 2022

Evolution of Robotic Cleaners for the Home

When robotic vacuum cleaners first hit the market they promised to help eliminate one of the most mundane household chores. In reality, initial models didn’t live up to the hype – while they solved one problem, they had some unforeseen drawbacks. Unprecise mapping technology resulted in uneven coverage, and their small size meant the bin needed to be emptied frequently. This required consumers to locate and manually clean any missed spots, or empty the bin multiple times during a vacuuming cycle. Each scenario was undesirable which has ultimately led to more innovative solutions that we see on the market today.

Precise Mapping for Complete Coverage

One of the first improvements that manufacturers integrated into robotic vacuums was laser scanning technology to enable enhanced mapping capabilities. Along with improved AI algorithms, the laser scanners, or LIDAR, help each device create a precise map of an entire home that is used for accurate cleaning and obstacle avoidance.

Some robotic vacuums use cameras for mapping rooms and avoiding obstacles, however this can raise privacy concerns among consumers because this data is transferred wirelessly. Additionally, like cameras used in autonomous vehicles, they can be affected by lighting and other factors that can potentially decrease efficacy. Laser or infrared technologies are typically more effective in challenging conditions and environments. In an ideal world, both camera and laser technology can be used in tandem to provide a comprehensive visual layout.

Automatic Bin Emptying For the Win

The next big upgrade integrated a waste bin within the docking station that could empty the robot’s bin automatically during or after cleaning. When the robotic vacuum returns to the charging dock, the “tower” uses a vacuum to pull the waste from the robot. This larger waste bin needs to be emptied significantly less often, which means consumers can run repeated cycles with minimal interruption. Because of the additional components, these models tend to be more expensive but offer a significant advantage over previous designs.

New & Future Technologies

While there hasn’t been many major leaps forward in recent years, manufacturers continue to improve overall performance and features. There are now robotic cleaners that can not only vacuum but also mop floors using a small on-board water reservoir. At present, these tasks are best left to two separate devices because it is challenging for engineers to design a single unit that performs well at both. The standalone unit would need to precisely detect the border between soft and hard floors so as not to ruin carpeted areas or rugs. Once this detection technology becomes more advanced, motors equipped with hall or optical sensors are able to deliver precise steering and obstacle avoidance for a highly efficient cleaning experience.

Sensor technology is continuing to improve for autonomous robots and vehicles which will both enhance capabilities and lower prices for these devices. Additionally, there are many advantages for commercial customers to employ robotic cleaning devices to fill gaps as companies experience labor shortages. At NMB, we are looking forward to developing new solutions to help robotic cleaning manufacturers realize their latest innovative designs. Personally, my credit card will be poised for when a shower and bath cleaning robot enters the market.

Fernando Palarca
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