Today, Neato Robotics is announcing a free update to its D7 Connected robot vacuum that includes two new features: Multiple Floor Plan Mapping and Quick Boost Charging. These are reasonably cool and useful things to have in a robot vacuum, but what’s exciting about this is they’re the first examples of what’s possible with the D7’s persistent maps—its ability to remember your floorplan between cleaning sessions.
Both iRobot and Neato Robotics have high-end robot vacuums that are able to map your house as they clean. iRobot uses cameras to do this, and Neato uses a spinning lidar sensor. Both robots will send you a map of where they cleaned once they’re finished. What is (so far) unique about the Neato D7 is that it’s able to remember the maps that it makes—the maps are persistent between cleaning sessions. Neato’s app allows you to not only view these maps, but also interact with them, drawing “no-go” lines for areas that you want to be off-limits to the robot. Here’s my D7’s map of the first floor of my apartment:
I’ve drawn two no-go lines on this map. The upper one closes off a stairway, which the robot is supposed to detect on its own, but better safe than sorry. And the bottom one keeps the robot out of the bedroom and bathroom, which don’t need to be vacuumed as often as the rest of the apartment. It’s simple, it’s intuitive, and the robot will follow these lines until I change them.
Can I also mention just how nicely square and clean this map is? Like, I’ve made maps with robots before, and they’re usually a mess, with wonky angles when there should be square corners and all kinds of clutter all over the place. This map is beautiful (thanks, I assume, to a lot of clever processing by Neato), and all robots should aspire to make something this simple.
Announced today are two new features for the Neato D7 that are based on this ability for maps to persist between cleaning sessions:
Multiple Floor Plan Mapping: With the launch of multiple floor plan mapping, users can now use the Neato app to create a new floor plan on their second, or even third floor of their home. Once created, ‘No-Go’ Lines can be added to tell the robot which places to avoid cleaning floor by floor.
Quick Boost Charging: With the ability to clean different floors across the home, also comes the possibility that the robot may need to recharge to finish the job and to reduce overall cleaning time. Neato is introducing Neato Quick Boost charging to allow the Neato Botvac D7 Connected to calculate how much power it needs to finish its cleaning run and top up accordingly. Your robot will return to its base automatically, get a quick boost, and resume cleaning the rest of your floorplan.
The multiple floor plan thing is self-explanatory, but the quick boost charging is clever. Since the robot has a persistent map, it’s tracking not just the area that it’s already cleaned, but also the area that it has yet to clean (less areas behind no-go lines). It can then figure out how exactly how much power it needs, and charge for just that amount of time. Other robot vacuums will recharge when necessary and then resume a cleaning cycle in the middle, but without knowledge of how much space remains to clean, they recharge fully before resuming, and then (we assume) feel very silly if there’s just one little corner left.
We’ve often pointed out that in general, the inexpensive versions of robot vacuums from both Neato and iRobot do pretty much just as good of a job at their fundamental task (vacuuming) as the expensive ones do. And there are certainly lots of other competing companies that sell inexpensive robot vacuums as well. In the past, it’s been tricky to justify the (admittedly kind of massive) premium that it costs to get one of the flagship vacuuming robots that can make maps, and to be totally honest, it’s still tricky, because you’re usually paying at least twice as much for something that doesn’t actually clean all that much better.
However, these features related to persistent maps are the first example of where the real value of these higher end vacuums may be. We’ve already speculated a whole bunch about this; obvious useful examples include labeling and cleaning specific rooms, tracking particularly dirty areas and cleaning them more frequently, integrating with other smart home devices, and more. At this point, it may not be quite enough to justify the expense of a top end vacuum, but it’s not too difficult to imagine that pretty soon, features like these are things that you might be willing to pay for.
[ Neato D7 ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.