Along with jetpacks to whiz us off to work droids that do all the menial jobs around the home haven’t really appeared as we envisioned them in the 1950s and 60s.
Home automation is still perceived as the preserve of the rich, with their home cinema basements and car garages as smart as high-tech factories.
But even billionaire oligarchs don’t have C3PO shuffling around after them, or Robby The Robot providing chauffeur and security duties.
The principal area where robots help out in the home is in floor vacuuming. They have been cleaning carpets of dust and dirt for over a decade, and are getting pretty good at it.
The latest smart home vacuum robot is the Neato XV-15, which we tested in a small house (2 adults, one small child but no pets).
The Neato XV-15 is pretty dinky compared to R2D2 – measuring 15.5 x 15.5 x 10 inches, and weighing just under 7kg – but you’d still notice it sitting in a corner of the room. Unlike most vacuum cleaners it’s virtually wire free – the power cable goes to the recharging unit, but after that the XV-15 is wireless.
The XV-15 is meant to sit unobtrusively somewhere and jump into action when you want it to go clean up your mess.
Setup is incredibly simple – surprising for a device as smart as this.
The XV-15 works on most types of floor: carpets, rugs, hardwood, laminates, tile, and stone. (We didn’t try it on sheepskin rugs, but users report it gets stuck on longer materials like this.) It isn’t phased by surfaces at different heights, as it boasts some mean suspension in its low-hung wheels.
You can just push the big on-button or schedule the device to clean rooms at set points in the day.
The neat thing about the Neato is its laser-based Room Positioning System that sees everything at that height in the room, and helps avoids bumping into walls and furniture too often. It works its way round each room methodically in straight lines, and moves onto the next as long as you remember to leave all the doors open!
There’s a floor flaw here, though. We left our doors open, propped there with doorstops. But the XV-15 was so keen to clean right up to the door that it frequently knocked the doorstops away, thus closing the door and halting a complete floor sweep.
The intelligent sensors stop your precious robo-cleaner from throwing itself down the stairs, but this obvious inability to climb between storeys does limit its ability to swish round your home in one human-less pass.
I say ‘swish’ but the XV-15 is not a silent slave. It starts up like a Harrier jump jet and then proceeds on its cleaning way at a steady volume. It’s about as noisy as any standard vac. According to Which? Samsung’s Navibot Silencio is one of the quietest at 62 decibels (60db is the average human conversation).
The point of robot vacs is that you can leave them to do their cleaning while you’re away in another room or even out doing something more interesting, so the noise shouldn’t be too annoying.
When its battery is about to run out or it finishes its run around it returns to its charging base, so that it’s ready for the next clean – or can continue with the mission it was on when the juice ran out. Watching the XV-15 gently bump around and then go back to base gives the device some personality, and you’ll soon give it its own more-human name (ours was dubbed Maria) as XV-15 is rather too gadgety for such a helpful servant.
The suction is impressive, but doesn’t match the ultimate power of a quality standard vacuum – and, of course, doesn’t boast all the crevice-crazy attachments you expect from a push cleaner.
While the XV-15 certainly tries its best to get right up to the skirting boards, under furniture and into corners it can’t match a decent vacuum controlled by a competent human. That said, its straight front allows it to closer to edges than many round-fronted robot cleaners.
Sadly science hasn’t got us to the point where the Neato XV-15 can empty its own dirt bin, and we found doing this manually sometimes puffs out a little dust – although, to be fair, this happens with most bagless cleaners.
The house we tested the Neato XV-15 in isn’t home to any hairy pets so we can’t vouch for its fur collection, but user reviews do pick out this use as one of the standout benefits. Dogs and cats can shed their coats frequently over your carpets and other floor surfaces, and having the robot run around cleaning after them is going to save pet owners a lot of vacuuming.
The ultimate robo vacuum owner would have a pet or two and live in a bungalow (to save carrying it upstairs or having to buy more than one), and probably not live with children who leave toys and other stuff all over the floor.
Of course, as anyone with a human cleaner knows, you first need to tidy up the area to be vacuumed in order that it can have a proper go at the maximum available floor surface. C3PO could have helped in that regard.
The Neato XV-15 or any robot vacuum cleaner isn’t likely to replace your standard floor sucker, as it won’t get under all your sofas, armchairs and other bulky pieces of furniture – although it will have a jolly good go. It is better than standard vacs at getting under higher objects such as beds, if the area isn’t cluttered with storage boxes, of course.
It won’t clean your stairs, and it can’t reach those cobwebs on the ceiling.
But it has plenty of satisfied customers who sing its praises as a time-saving gadget that picks up the bulk of the dust and dirt, saving the house humans from dragging the vacuum out every other day.
The Neato XV-15 isn’t cheap at £399 – you can buy a couple of dinky Dyson floor cleaners for that – so it’s still definitely a luxury purchase; although it’s a lot cheaper than hiring someone in to do your vacuuming for you!
Got a robot vacuum cleaner, or thoughts about them? Join in the robot vacuum cleaner conversation on our forums.
While it’s not a complete replacement for a standard cleaner the Neato XV-15 serves a purpose in homes that require frequent floor vacuuming. It’s not cheap and it doesn’t do stairs but it will save you menial-work time and amaze friends with its smart laser positioning system and diligent work rate.