Toshiba Smarbo Vacuum Has Twice the Smarts, but Does It Matter?
This is a new vacuuming robot from Toshiba, called the Smarbo. Few of the specs will surprise you: it's got 38 sensors, obstacle detection, edge detection, and a mapping camera (kinda like LG's RoboKing) that lets it recognize where it's been and clean rooms in an efficient, single pass pattern. What caught our eye was the "double brain function," which (if Google Translate is to be relied upon, never a good idea) seems to suggest that this vacuum is smarter than normal.
But do we really care?
Progress is always good, and a faster and more efficient robot is usually a better robot. But when we're talking about an autonomous vacuum, there's a question as to whether or not a marginal improvement in efficiency derived from a more computationally intensive algorithm will really make a difference in your life. As I see it, a robot vacuum can operate in one of two ways: pseudo-randomly, like a Roomba, or using a mapping pattern, like a Neato. iRobot's method involves multiple cleaning passes to clean better (maybe) at the expense of efficiency, while Neato's method covers most areas of your floor approximately once. Obviously, the Neato is much faster, so if speed is what you want, go with a vacuum that makes a map.
But there's a limit to the amount of cleverness you can use to improve that "approximately once" coverage method. Or perhaps I should say, you can throw as much CPU cleverness as you want at the problem, but returns diminish rapidly unless the speed or single-pass coverage area of your robot also increases. Again, I'm not trying to harsh on progress, but on some level a "smarter" robot vacuum is sort of like a camera with 12 megapixels instead of 10: looks good on paper, but will you ever really notice and are you willing to pay a premium for it? Perhaps not.
What I do like is Toshiba's "careful" cleaning method, which is sort of like a compromise between efficiency and multiple passes. If you set the Smarbo to clean carefully, it'll do a single pass while mapping the room, and then go back and do a second, orthogonal pass, like so (bottom left):
Pretty cool. Maybe something Neato could implement in their next tasty little software upgrade? Eh? Yeah? Anyway, unless you live somewhere besides the U.S., much of this
rant discussion was to some extent pointless, since the Smarbo is not a vacuum that you'll ever be able to purchase, likely because some of its major components look like they were more or less lifted straight from the Roomba. If you're in Japan, though, you can pick up the Smarbo for about $1,175 starting October 1.