First Look

The Neato Botvac; great but not for my house

Robot vacuum cleaners are a good idea but until they can resist sulking under my sofa, I'll pass.

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Credit: Wikipedia

Back in 2010, when we were all rather younger, I reviewed a few robot vacuum cleaners and amongst the products tested was a Neato XV-11 (this model no longer exists or has been renamed) from Neato Robotics. It did a good job and while I liked it, the VX-11 was the noisiest of the bunch (I commented that it sounded like a miniature Lear jet taking off).

Neato’s PR people recently asked me if I’d like to check out one of the company’s latest robot vacuum cleaners and the answer was, of course, “yes!” (they had me at “robot”). What I received was a Neato Botvac 80, a 9lb, laser-scanning, highly efficient autonomous vacuuming system.

neato botvac 80 Neato Robotics

Neato Botvac 80

We have an Australian Shepard (a breed with very silky fur that is shed continuously in staggering quantities) and the first time I ran the Botvac it sucked up a ridiculously large amount of hair and dirt in a just few minutes (Harvey eyed the Botvac with great suspicion but, much to my surprise, didn’t try to savage it). Its vacuum isn’t anything like as loud as its predecessor and overall it’s cleaning performance was excellent.

Neato robot vacuums, as I noted above, use a laser scanning system to map the spaces they clean. This allows them to cover rooms by going up and down in sequential strips rather than using the random pattern used by, for example, Roomba devices, and provides faster and more reliable cleaning.

Neato Botvacs are easy to setup for scheduled operation or they can clean on demand (it also has a spot clean mode). In operation when the machine’s charge runs low (it’s good for roughly 2,000 square feet of cleaning) it can find its way back to its charging station even when the station is out of sight in another room.

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Neato Botvac docked at its charging station

The Botvac tells you when its dirt bin needs emptying or its brushes need cleaning and it can avoid plummeting down stairs so all in all, it’s a pretty clever and effective piece of engineering. That said, the Botvac has trouble dealing with fringed carpets (it tried to eat my front door carpet several times) and – and this is my complaint about every robot vacuum I’ve tested – it seems to have a predilection for sulking under sofas.

I have three sofas and none of them have quite enough clearance at the front for the Botvac to slide underneath. Unfortunately and curiously the clearance at the sides of the couches is just enough that the Botvac usually winds up up going underneath one of them every time it runs and then gets wedged where the couch’s underside is a little lower than the sides. It then starts beeping rather sadly until it’s rescued which is usually a two person job (one to lift the sofa, the other to grab the device).

Now, Neato does provide a coil of rubberized magnetic material that can be used to fence off an area but fencing off three sofas is just not going to work for me. Firstly you can’t really securely attach the fencing strips to carpet without resorting to nails or glue, and, second, even if I could, that’s not a look that’s particularly what we’re after.

What would be great would be if you could tell the Neato where it should not go. After all, it maps out rooms so a simple app that read out its memory map and lets you define “no go” areas would make good sense. Alas, Neato didn’t ask my opinion when they built the Botvac so there we are … a robot vacuum cleaner that I can’t really use unless I want to keep power lifting sofas.

At $549 it’s a sound choice for houses with the right kind of sofas and carpets but for my house it just needs to get a little smarter.

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