I will start off by saying that I don’t like to think of myself as lazy, instead I prefer to think that I am much too busy to take the time to complete the more mundane chores around the house like vacuuming and so on. Ok, I’m lazy and vacuuming is boring. Much like any tech-geek, if I see a high-tech way to do something, I tend to gravitate towards that, and when I saw the Neato XV-11 robotic vacuum I knew I had to try it.
The XV-11 robotic vacuum cleaner is made by Neato Robotics of Silicon Valley. What sets the XV-11 apart from its well known competitor is that it employs what Neato Robotics calls the Room Positioning System (RPS) Laser Mapping System…that’s right, this thing has frickin lasers! In theory, the XV-11 will laser map your room and then plot its course, taking care to avoid obstacles and bumping into furniture. Not only is the RPS system supposed to prevent the bot from body-checking your favorite vase, it also allows it to intelligently plan is cleaning route, allowing it to vacuum in a more natural/human-like pattern…translation: it will make it look like you vacuumed so that your visitors have no idea how lazy you truly are. Taking the robo-smarts a step further the XV-11 knows to clean one room at a time, If the bot passes by an open doorway it will remember it and once it has finished cleaning its current room it will navigate to the next room, Once the cleaning is completed (or when it’s battery runs low) the RPS system allows the bot to find its way back to its charging base without human interaction. Should the bot have to recharge in the middle of a cleaning, it will return to where it left off once the batteries have recharged and resume cleaning. If an intruder breaks into the house the XV-11 can ramp up the power on its laser and actually engage in a lightsaber battle with would-be criminal and…ok, well it can’t really do the lightsaber thing but that would be cool.
In order to gain some insight into the inner workings of the bot and it’s RPS system we asked Neato Robotics a few questions:(DaniWeb) The Neato RPS system has been referred to as SLAM technology. How accurate of a statement is that?
(Neato Robotics) It's entirely accurate. The Neato RPS navigation system includes both the laser sensor that generates spatial data and the software needed to process that data into maps. The laser quickly and constantly surveys the robot's environment as it’s cleaning and the SLAM implementation allows it to map the entire area of operation including furniture or objects within the space. Together, these technologies enable the robot to map and monitor where it is within the map space, as well as keep track of what it has cleaned and what it has left to clean.
(DW) What are the benefits of using this navigation system for the robot?
(NR) By using this system, we gain many benefits including: a) The robot is much less likely to bump into furniture, walls, and other objects, and therefore doesn’t scuff them up. b) The robot can clean an area more efficiently because it cleans it methodically using a back and forth path. This action leaves a neatly-groomed pattern, much like freshly-mowed grass. c.) Because it cleans so meticulously, the robot doesn’t waste energy randomly covering the floor multiple times. As a result, we have been able to divert the majority of the robot's power to a very powerful vacuum system. It is true vacuum cleaner, not a sweeper, and it relies primarily on suction to collect debris rather than bristle brush sweepers typical of other robotic cleaners. It has a beater brush with the biggest vacuum in a robotic vacuum system on the market today. d.) Due to its reliance on air flow for cleaning rather than bristle brushes, consumers using the Neato XV-11 aren't faced with frequent and tedious cleaning of the brushes between uses as is usually required of robotic cleaners to date.
Moving beyond the RPS system, the XV-11 packs a solid set of standard features, including the ability to schedule the bot to clean on which days and at what times you choose. The claims sound pretty promising so we will have to see how well the bot lives up to these standards.
Unboxing The Neato XV-11 review sample that we received arrived in a non-descript cardboard shipping box. After opening the shipping box you find the Retail box and packaging. The retail box is high quality cardboard colorfully printed with branding and product features. Upon opening the retail box you are greeted with orange…a lot of bright orange. The interior of the retail box as well as the robot and accessories boxes are bright orange in color…definitely an attention grabber, in fact my nearly-two-year-old son let out an audible “Oooooh” when I opened the box. Once you get past the orange you find two interior boxes, one for the accessories and one for the bot itself. The accessories box contains the charging station, A quick start manual is included for all of us out there that are too impatient to read through the included standard manual (until an issue arises that is), Also inside the accessories box is a large roll of magnetic stripping. This is used to act as an out of bounds marker for the XV-11 and can be cut to size and laid in front of areas you do not want the robot to enter. The robot box, which is actually more of a sleeve, contains, well the robot. The XV-11 is wrapped inside a durable plastic bag and is held in place by two soft plastic end-caps that also act as shock absorbers during shipping. The packaging shows a great deal of forethought as the robot appears to be very well protected in transit and any shipping damage great enough to harm the robot would almost certainly be severe enough to damage the outside of the retail box as well, providing an immediate indication of rough handling.First Impressions
One of the first things you notice when looking at the XV-11 is its “D” shape. The Roomba, XV-11’s main competitor, entire product line is round. One of the primary reasons for the round shape is that helps prevent the Roomba from getting hung up on obstacles as there are no odd protrusions to snag chair legs and the like. Initially I thought the D-shape of the XV-11 might have been a design faux pas on the part of Neato. After seeing the XV-11 in action however, I can say its shape is no detriment to its performance and in-fact serves a great purpose, but more on that later.
On the top of the bot you will notice its small pill-box style bunker, this structure houses the RPS laser system mentioned earlier To the right of the RPS system is the Control Panel. The Control Panel consists of a LCD display, three navigation buttons, a softkey as well as the Start button and it’s LED status light. Unsurprisingly the Control panel allows you to interact with the bot, this is where you schedule cleanings and it also serves as a message display center for the robot, should it need to alert you to anything. The status light near the start button also acts as a quick reference system. A green light means the XV-11 is fully charged and ready to clean, pulsing green indicates it is not yet fully charged but has enough power to start a clean. Pulsing amber lets you know that the unit is charging (i.e. does not have enough power to clean yet) and a solid amber light means the bot needs human intervention, generally alerting you to a stuck wheel, full dirt bin, etc.
The bottom of the XV-11 is all business. In front you will find the sweeping brush nestled behind the front bumper and directly behind the sweeping bar are brush guard release buttons allowing you to easily remove the sweeping bar to clear any obstructions. At either end of the sweeping bar are the drop sensor windows which prevent the bot from hurtling itself down a flight of stairs or any other steep declines. The Neato XV-11 is propelled by two surprisingly all-terrain looking wheels that function much the same as military tank tracks in terms of how they allow the robot turn within its own body length. The XV-11 is further supported by four additional casters located front and rear of the bot. Around back are the charging contacts, exhaust vent, USB port and power port. The charging contacts allows the bot to recharge itself by simply backing up to the charging base while the power port allows you the option to charge the bot by utilizing only the power brick located inside the charging base.
The charging base itself is an elegantly simple affair. Two spring-loaded charging contact points are located on the front of the device. A large button on the top of the base allows you to remove the back and gives you access to the power brick itself should you want to charge the bot without using the base system.Performance
Normally this would be the part of the review where I would list the specifications for the test system and which benchmarks I was going to use, but seeing as there is no “VacuumMark” available, real world testing on my humble abode will have to suffice. The upper level of my home is approximately 1200sqft, including two bedrooms, a living room, 2 bathrooms a kitchen and dining room. Floor covering ranges from shorter pile plush carpet to hardwood and tile. Another level of my house features deeper pile carpet (no not shag carpet, give me some credit) and should serve well to determine whether Neato can really vacuum or is just a glorified sweeper. My house is inhabited by my wife, my (nearly) two year old son,two black cats and obviously myself. Between the kid and the cats, my floors don’t stand a chance and thanks to the nearly-constant shedding ability of said cats my light colored carpet almost constantly appears gray in color.
I chose to install the XV-11’s charging station in our main living room as it was fairly central in the layout of our main floor. The manufacturer recommends that the base be positioned at least three feet from the corner of a room and offer at least three feet of unobstructed floor space in front of the base. The station was merely plugged into the outlet and pushed up against the wall underneath a console table that allowed easy access to the bot. I manually backed Neato up to charging station and was greeted with a pulsing amber light. The manual stated an initial full charge is required and can take 2-3 hours, however Neato was fully charged in just over one hour, which was awesome as I was itching to try this guy out. The User’s Guide suggested “prepping the area” for the robot by picking up toys, electrical cords and pretty much anything else you didn’t want the bot to digest. At first I found this a little off-putting, I mean you guy a robotic vacuum and now you have to prep your house for it? When I actually thought it through though, it made sense, these are things that you would either remove before doing manual vacuuming, or if you are like me, these are the things you vacuum around. All in all, prepping the house makes sense.
According to the literature on the XV-11, the robot will scan the room and then attempt to vacuum the perimeter first, then begin its linear “human like” vacuuming. The literature also mentions that the zone of this perimeter will not be larger than 15’x15’, now this is not to say that the XV-11 cannot do larger areas, just that it would be broken into 15’x15’ zones.
I pressed the start button to wake the bot up and I navigated through the menu to set the day and time. I pressed it a second time to have him start cleaning. I realize I just called the robot a “him” and I do understand that the robot is not gender specific, however my son has become friends with the bot on a first name basis and chooses to call him Neato and has also decided that Neato is a “him” so inevitably we have all taken to referring to the bot in that way. Neato played his little musical tone and pulled away from his charging base and rolled forward about two feet. At this time Neato’s cleaning motor started to spool up. Neato Robotics states on their website that “At the vaccum’s core, a centrifugal compression-impeller follows jet engine airflow principles to create sustained high-speed suction”. Um, yeah, as Neato spooled up, it sounded like a Harrier was getting ready to lift off from my living room floor, which I have to admit sounded pretty cool. I have no idea how such a little bot could produce such a huge sound and just about the time I was beginning to worry that this powerful noise would be the bot’s constant volume, its brusher bar started spinning and its volume dropped significantly. Neato then began a slow 360 degree spin apparently conducting the initial laser scan of the room and possibly judging me for my choice of home décor.
This time is as good as any to interject the fact that I can be pretty pessimistic when it comes to the claims a vendor makes about its product. We have all been burned before when a product fails to work as advertised and generally the more complicated the product, the more likely it is to fall short of those grand vendor claims. Seeing as Neato is a robotic vacuum that is purported to use the same navigation methodology as a Predator Drone, I was expecting a pretty solid let down, thinking it was just a matter of time.
Neato began his journey along the wall heading part of the way down the hall, when he reached roughly the midway point of the hallway he made an abrupt 90 degree turn and drove to the other side of the hallway and then started heading back towards me, sure enough following the perimeter of the room. Along his self-planned route he was greeted with a flight of stairs heading down, a perfect way to detect the “cliff” sensors used to prevent the bot from doing a cannonball down a flight of stairs. Neato approached the edge of the top step with confidence….actually what appeared to be a little too much confidence as it looked like he was about ready to go right over the edge into what I imagined would become a rather violent and spectacular cartwheel of death for the little domesti-bot. Such was not the case however. Neato recognized the stairs, corrected direction accordingly and vacuumed along the edge with what seemed like an impossible amount of his bodyweight hanging over the edge, in other words the XV-11 cleans as close to the edge of the steps as possible.
Continuing along his predetermined route brought Neato to the edge of my couch…and right under it. My couch (and chair set) have exposed legs and roughly 5 inches of ground clearance, which Neato evidently already knew as he continued under the couch. He continued to follow the perimeter of the room, under the couch and out the other side. After reemerging the bot cut a line straight across the middle of the room to the same wall he originally started on and continued back in his original direction, having completed his first perimeter, which I measured and found to be 15’ in length from end to end. It was interesting to watch Neato as he began his linear vacuuming, when he reached the end of a straightaway he would pull a 180 and return, overlapping his last ling enough to ensure proper cleaning, but not so much as to result and “re-cleaning” too much of the same area. What was also interesting was that Neato would visibly (and audibly) increase speed on the straightaway, allowing him to zip right along.
I mentioned earlier that the XV-11’s D-shape had a purpose and all one has to do is watch Neato clean a room one time to see what that purpose is. It is simple really, have you ever tried to put a circle into a corner? If you have then I am sure you can agree that the results are less than impressive. A Roomba, with is circular shape can move into a corner but obviously leaves much of that corner untouched. The Neato XV-11 on the other hand can get right into that same corner with the squared-shaped front edge of it’s D-shaped body. Another benefit I saw with this was that when Neato would maneuver around objects (table legs, etc) or change direction. Neato would approach an object, say a baseboard along a wall, and need to change direction, he would do one of his pivot turns (think of the way a military tank turns) and his leading front edge would pass within roughly ¼ inch of the baseboard without actually striking it! This may seem mundane but it is a testament to how accurate the RPS Laser mapping system truly is. When Neato would come to the leg of the couch, he would basically do a slow donut around it to ensure he got all sides, again barely a ¼” away from the leg. I can tell you that is closer than I am able to get with an upright vacuum…well closer without hitting it I should say.
After Neato finished his first section he moved onto his next section, repeating his perimeter track and subsequent linear cleaning. Neato transitioned seamlessly to my hardwood floors even though there is a protruded wooden divider on the seam between the carpeted and hardwood areas. It was impressive to watch this little bot navigate his way around my house, cleaning an area and then moving on to clean his next zone. If a door was left open Neato would clean (and finish) that room before moving on to the next, truly a room by room clean. I was amazed to see how well Neato could navigate his space. Neato did have a few hangups along the way but they were few and far between. In one hallway there is a HVAC vent cover that runs along the baseboard and sticks out from the wall approximately 1 inch. When cleaning along this particular baseboard Neato would inevitably strike the vent cover with his bumper, stop, then navigate around it. In another instance Neato bumped a floor lamp. In watching his attempts to clean around it, I can only surmise that he could “see” the pole of the lamp itself but the base, which only rises about an inch from the floor was somehow in his blindspot. I can tell you however that Neato does have copious amounts of wheel travel as he was able to propel himself up onto the base of the lamp and go almost near vertical trying to clean around the pole. I expected I would have to intervene (especially as if began to look as if Neato was attempting to get romantic with my lamp) but he was able to successfully navigate his way off the lamp and continue his cleaning run.
Neato was busy cleaning one of the bedrooms when I thought I heard him shutoff. I went to investigate when I saw him coming out of the bedroom. As he passed by me I noticed on the LCD screen that he was telling me the cleaning was suspended while he headed to his base for a recharge. The bot hadn’t actually turned itself off, instead it had only powered down the vacuum to conserve power on the trip back to the charger. Once he reached his charger he did a pirouette and backed up to the charging contacts. Approximately and hour and a half later I heard Neato power on. Yet again I passed him in the hallway as he navigated back to right where he had left off cleaning earlier. He picked right back up and finished the room and moved on to the next.
I understand that the Neato XV-11 is supposed to free me from the drudgery of vacuuming but unfortunately it has done the opposite, it has turn vacuuming into a spectator sport. Oddly enough the first few times Neato cleans you will find yourself watching him longer than you had planned to, as he navigates his way around your obstacle-course of a home. There were a few times when I was certain he would get trapped in a certain area, but to my amazement he would navigate his way out of it just fine.
In order to be objective and test the full autonomy of the robot I scheduled a vacuuming for a time I knew I would be gone from the house, this also had the added benefit of preventing me from spending an hour entranced in watching the little guy clean my place. It wasn’t until I was miles from home that my mind started to conjure up all of the worst-case scenarios that would play themselves out in my absence. I began to envision Neato misreading his drop sensor and flinging himself down a flight of stairs, or careening into a lamp and knocking it into/through a window. My mind raced with all the horrendous possibilities. By the time I got home later that day I had gone completely mental, picturing Neato having cracked my safe, made off with my valuables, rolling down the sidewalk somewhere. I entered the house and immediately noticed that it was too quiet, I glanced to Neato’s charging station and he wasn’t there. I began to search somewhat frantically (I have no idea why it was even close to frantic) for the little bot. I found him in one of the bedrooms with his status light glowing solid amber. I read the screen only to find that Neato was telling me his brusher bar was stuck, I flipped him over to discover that he had inhaled one of the cat toys my feline friends constantly like to redistribute throughout the house. With the toy removed I hit resume and he took off on his cleaning route as if nothing had happened. Obviously I had woken up on the melodramatic side of the bed that morning but it does go to show the level of “trust” you place in any autonomous object. Its one thing to sit there an watch it, ready to intervene if necessary, but its quite another to trust it to work fully autonomously believing that it wont just run amok all over your home.
Its clear by now that Neato can clearly navigate his way around the average home, but how well does he clean? Let me start by saying there really is no empirical way to benchmark or measure this, so this is somewhat subjective. As a means of comparison my standard vacuum cleaner is a Dyson DC-25 Animal, arguably one of the better upright vacuum cleaners and admittedly the best vacuum cleaner I have ever owned. A standard (and often procrastinated) vacuuming session with the Dyson results in dirt bin full of enough cat hair to make a third cat. After vacuuming with my Dyson the floors are noticeably cleaner and amount of junk I dump out of the dirt bin provides that reassuring feeling that I actually accomplished something. Truth be told the reason the “clean” may seem so evidently might be do to the fact that I often put off vacuuming until I REALLY need to.
How does the Neato XV-11 stack up? To be honest I didn’t have high hopes, after all I am basically comparing a battery powered vacuum cleaner that is less than 6 inches tall against one of the most popular upright vacuums on the market. After the bot had finished vacuuming my main living room area I emptied the dirt bin, which was easy enough, just pop it out, pop out the filter and shake it into the trash can. I expected to see a dust bunny or two but I was blown away when I saw the dirt bin was nearly full of cat hair and floor crud. Emptying Neato was very similar to emptying the Dyson and provided the same level of satisfaction in dumping said contents into trash.
I decided to test Neato’s ability to pick up larger items. In the interest of science I allowed my son too snack on a bowl of Cheerios in the living room. Apparently overcome with his father’s recent generosity and barely able to contain his excitement, my son had sent handfuls of Cheerio’s flying about the room in short order. It was Neato to the rescue, as I sat down for another around of armchair vacuuming. Neato ended up eating more Cheerios than my son had, eliminating any and all evidence of the cereal war zone. I thought I would kick things up a notch, next up, peanuts. As Neato devoured the peanuts I began to realize that if I didn’t stop soon I would be inadvertently teaching my son that we needed to feed Neato on a daily basis…a path I did not want to go down. Suffice it to say Neato was able to pickup any and all debris I would expect him too, including some items I had not expected him to, for instance a metal hook from a Christmas tree ornament. The metal hook became wrapped around Neato’s brusher bar, which proved to be a simple fix as I merely had to press the two buttons to release the brush guard on the bottom of the bot and pull the hook out and Neato was back in business.
If I were to pit the XV-11 against the Dyson DC-25 on sheer cleaning power I have no doubt the Dyson would win…and it should, it is much larger and more powerful, The bottom line is that for the less than the price of the Dyson, you can purchase a vacuum cleaner that actually vacuums for you and does a really good job at that. The XV-11 is designed for routine/maintenance cleaning. While the XV-11 can definitely clean dirty floors well, its strength lies in its consistency as it can maintain that level of clean by vacuuming every day if you schedule it to, which I can tell you is a heck of a lot more often than my Dyson usually gets used. I did notice over the following days that the floors just seemed to be constantly clean, crumbs on the floor here and there would magically disappear by the next day, replaced with fresh vacuum lines.Conclusion
My time spent with Neato has surprised me, and pleasantly I might add. I have to admit that when I saw the claims that the manufacturer was making about the intelligence of the robot and its abilities I was skeptical to say the least. In all honesty I had previously thought that the claims were exaggerated at best and more likely they were completely overblown, but such was not the case. When I started using Neato I was immediately impressed by the bot’s navigation ability, but I kept thinking to myself, :”something’s got to give” so I prepped myself for a less than stellar cleaning ability. That mental preparation was unnecessary as Neato admirably cleaned well beyond my expectations and nearly rivaled the cleaning power of my trusty Dyson upright vacuum.
It was a treat to show off Neato to friends and family that had stopped by and to watch the smile spread across their face when they realized how intelligent and capable the bot truly was. Inevitably they would try to test the bot by placing objects in its path or by tossing detritus in his path (I can tell you that Neato can and will eat French fries) but the little robot never missed a beat.
While the Neato XV-11 is indeed a great product there are some drawbacks and I would be remiss were I not to mention them. First, Neato doesn’t traverse stairs, therefore those living in multiple-level dwellings are either faced with buying an XV-11 for each level or they will need to lug him up and down to different floors…but seeing as that is exactly what I have to do with my upright vacuum I can’t really knock Neato for it. Neato Robotics claims that the XV-11 has the largest dirt/dust bin of any robotic cleaner and while this may be true it does need emptying fairly regularly. Be that as it may Neato can regularly clean one entire level of my home (roughly 1200sq feet) before an emptying is needed. Pricing for the Neato XV-11 hovers around $399 and while that may not exactly be cheap I don’t feel it is out of line for a product of this nature and quality upright vacuum cleaners can easily go for hundreds more. When discussing pricing with a friend of mine he was surprised to learn the cost of the robot and started to exclaim “For that price it should do the vacuuming for you…” He caught himself before finishing the statement but my obvious rebuttal was a smirk and “um yeah Einstein, it DOES vacuum for you”. I cannot in good conscious complete this review without commenting on the thought that is on most of your minds, “How does the Neato XV-11 compare to Roomba?” In theory this is a difficult question to answer, iRobot has numerous Roomba variants and the Roomba name has become synonymous with robotic vacuuming. Furthermore I did not have a Roomba in house (although I have used some in the past) during the testing of Neato to perform any empirical tests or standard comparisons. With that said I can still offer you my assessment: The Neato XV-11 offers SLAM-navigated, turbine-powered bitch slap across the face of the Roomba, whichever model you choose. The PHD-level intelligent navigation of the XV-11 makes the random pattern navigation of the Roomba look like a third attempt at passing the fifth grade. The Roomba may enjoy the celebrity status of the robotic cleaning world, but if I were iRobot I would be strongly reevaluating my product lline…with a quickness.
In the end, the Neato XV-11 performed as advertised and did so with aplomb. As hard as I try, I cannot find anything truly wrong with the bot, only my wishes for it to conquer my other household tasks, a la cooking, laundry and car maintenance. I enthusiastically recommend this product to anyone who is looking to free themselves from the drudgery of vacuuming and have a fun time doing it. I don't know how else to put it, this thing is friggin' awesome! Treat yourself, buy a Neato XV-11 kick back and relax.