Author: Tronserve admin
Tuesday 27th July 2021 01:40 PM
iRobot Completely Redesigns Its Floor Care Robots With New m6 and s9
It was just late last year that iRobot announced the i7, a top of the line Roomba that may map your home, remember those maps, clean the rooms that you planned it to, and then eliminate all of the dirt that it picked up into a docking station so you didn't need to even think about the robot for weeks, or even months. After testing out the i7, we discovered that it really did work as advertised. For the first time, you could have regularly cleaner floors with literally zero effort. Thanks, robots!
We thought, somewhat naively as it turns out, that iRobot would be content to take a little bit of a break; historically, the Roomba innovation and commercial release cycle hasn't been particularly competitive. The i7 looked like a big enough step forward that iRobot would let folks adapt to the idea of a self-emptying Roomba, which is (to be fair) a pretty impressive engineering trick.
In fact, iRobot is completely overshadowing the Roomba i7 just nine months later with two new floor cleaning robots: the Braava m6, which is a beefed-up version of the Braava Jet with a mapping system in it; and the Roomba s9, a square-fronted (!) Roomba vacuum with a 3D sensor in the front to support it manage tricky areas of your home better than ever. The reason that both of these robots are being announced together is because they work as a team, communicating with each other to first vacuum your floors, and then mop them.
Until today, I never thought I'd see a square-fronted Roomba, but here we are. We’re taught that the Roomba s9 is fundamentally “a ground-up redesign” of the Roomba. And while there are a lot of features that trace their heritage to earlier Roomba generations, iRobot didn't leave all that much untouched. You still get a little bit of that older Roomba look with the very prominent round design on top (which is also a light ring for notifications and offers top access to the dust bin), but otherwise, square-ish is the new round.
For years, Neato has done the point that in order to get deep into corners and up along all the flat surfaces that can be uncovered in most homes, a square front makes the most sense. Roombas have had the benefit in maneuverability (since a round design allows for zero-radius turns), but it looks like iRobot has determined that the square front really does clean greater.
Having a square front grants the Roomba s9 a few a variety of advantages. First, it indicates that the cleaning system (the brushes and vacuum) are 30% wider than they could be alternatively, and they get closer to the edges of the robot. Second, and far more excitingly, the square front gives iRobot the space it needs to install a 3D time-of-flight sensor. The press release describes this as “a new advanced 3D sensor [that] constantly scans what’s immediately ahead of the Roomba s9+ at a rate of 25 times per second to help the robot get deep into corners, along edges and clean large areas efficiently.”
Despite recurring pestering, iRobot wouldn't tell us exactly what the 3D sensor is. What we do know is that it supplies x, y, and z coordinates of obstacles, and is powerful to the kinds of black or reflective surfaces that have typically tripped up iRobot's front proximity sensors. (If your Roomba has repeatedly smashed itself into pieces of black furniture, you know exactly what I'm talking about.) iRobot says that the sensor helps “make the process of touching stuff more fancy.” The robot will still nudge things to tell completely how close it is to obstacles, but it should do so much more softly. The sensor will also help the robot get into tighter spaces, navigate cleanly through those spaces, and then get out again, despite its square shape. And we're also told that over-the-air updates will add more capability via this sensor in the future.
The front sensor also helps the Roomba s9 make more correct maps, although the biggest mapping system is still the same upward facing vSLAM camera that you'll find on the i7. It's accurately the same, in fact, and the Braava m6 uses it as well.
The Braava traces its lineage back to Mint, a little Swiffer-ish robot developed by Evolution Robotics nearly a ten years ago; I examined one back in 2010. iRobot got Evolution Robotics in 2012, and adopted the idea of using disposable or reusable cleaning pads rather than the time consuming and often rather unpleasant wet floor cleaning system of iRobot's own Scooba. The Braava Jet (announced in 2016) was a compromise, using both sprayed water and cleaning pads, and the m6 is essentially the same—except bigger, easier to use, and able to map its environment just like the Roomba i7 and s9.
The m6 can use dry cleaning pads if you want, but it's really manufactured to be a mopping robot, cleaning your floors with tap water (or cleaning solution). You fill up a tank onboard the robot, and it squirts water in front of it as it cleans, careful not to get baseboards or obstacles unnecessarily wet. Unlike a vacuum, where one powerful pass is usually sufficient, you can instruct the Braava to make anywhere from 1 to 5 passes over your entire floor, depending on how sticky things have gotten. You can select the amount of water that it uses, too: more is fine for tile, but you might want less for fancy hardwood. Once the Braava is done, it'll autonomously return to its charging dock just like a Roomba, although you'll need to add more water to the tank and change out the pad, which involves a single button to drop a disposable pad into the trash, or a re-usable pad into the washing machine.
The Roomba s9, Braava m6, and the Roomba i7 are all equipped with what iRobot is calling “Imprint Link Technology.” For the moment, this enables the robots to do just one big thing: collaborate on a floor cleaning sequence. The same interface within the iRobot app that reveals you a robot-gained floor map of your home allows you to select whatever room or combination of rooms you want the robots to clean. First, the Roomba will vacuum your floors in pleasant straight lines, and then the Braava will follow, in equally nice (but slightly more damp) straight lines of its own. The coverage is efficient and can be done without you paying any attention at all, or even being at home. Doing things this way should help both robots clean significantly better. The Braava will be happier not having to deal with large debris (which its pad isn't designed for), while the Roomba won't have to try and handle sticky floors.
This teamwork idea is a big deal for home robots, and it's clear that this initial cooperative functionality is just the beginning. We asked iRobot CEO Colin Angle about this, along with some other concerns to help put these new robots in context.
IEEE Spectrum: Now that different robots in the home specialized in different tasks can connect with each other, there must be an enormous amount of prospective, right?
Colin Angle: Absolutely. Now that we have an comprehension of where rooms are, you now have a framework to work together all over, and instead of just vacuuming the home, we're now maintaining the home: vacuum these rooms, mop those rooms, and vacuum and then mop those other rooms. And those actions can be triggered by other devices connected to the home ecosystem.
One instance is: Today, if you're cleaning the kitchen after serving a meal, there's this visceral experience around when you turn on the dishwasher— the moment when everything is clean and stress goes down. Well, why not mop then, too? Why not have these home rituals augmented with robotic collaboration. It's a very, very rich space, and we're just scratching the surface, but the door has been opened because of the ability to remember maps, understand the home, and now, starting to have authentic inter-robot collaboration.
Is there anything more you can tell us about the new 3D sensor?
It's a structured light sensor that's used to give us a 3D reconstruction of the environment in front of the robot. That's helpful to make sure that we don't bulge anything more aggressively than we want to by design. If you look at the trajectory that the robot takes as it sort of swoops in along the edge of a room, or lines itself up to drive along a baseboard, you'll see real precision— the s9 is literally millimeters away from baseboards as it cleans. The sensor is also used to help the robot navigate around things like chair legs and underneath tables much more thoughtfully and effectively, since we can actually see where difficulties are and aim between them.
Are there other capabilities that this sensor could be leveraged for in the future?
The s9 is a platform, just to be clean. Launch features and the features a year from now— we'll be continuously updating the software to improve the performance. One idea is that the robot could actually recognize the type of objects it's cleaning around, and have object specific conducts to help it do a much better job and not get stuck. We have some basic functionality in that category today, but it will undoubtedly be something that we will continue to formulate, and it'll get better and better. The goal with the s9 is a big jump in cleaning with the capability to bring an experience where you can go months without touching your robot, so there's suddenly such a huge benefit to not getting stuck. Really, we want the robot living in your home, giving you this frictionless experience of having your home entirely and thoroughly vacuumed every single day.
Why did you decide to update the Braava for mopping, quite than bringing back the Scooba?
The Scooba did a great job cleaning, but the user experience, unfortunately, wasn't what it could have been. The problem was that you had to clean Scooba up after every use. The promise of robot mopping, like the promise of robot vacuuming, is that you just let the robot do it, and Scooba still needed you to get a little wet and dirty. The Braava Jet architecture was much more well-received by consumers, because you could just use the disposable or washable pad, and the cleanup is radically simpler. One day I'd love auto-replenishment of Braava, but that's a ways off.
With our floors now autonomously vacuumed and mopped almost entirely autonomously, what other opportunities are there for iRobot to innovate in the home?
Well, you know about our little project for the lawn, so that's certainly a next thing. And something I'm awesome aroused about is, I view the i7 and the s9 as some of the first true smart home products, where the experience when coupled with something like a smart speaker, and home understanding, delivers a home experience that's much richer than "turn on the light," and feels more like a service than a product. You have deep cleaning every day, on-demand 'clean up that mess…' How do we make more of the smart home feel the same way?
So if you think about iRobot's 'what's-next' future, it's a lot about enabling the smart home to truly be smart, to be more about delivering to the owner a healthier, well preserved environment, than it is about just comfort. And creating a way that subsequently, after a decade of hype, the smart home actually starts to deliver. I can't get more specific about it at this point, but that's the journey that we're on.
If you thought the i7+ was a “top of the line” robot vacuum (which is absolutely what we said up until just now), you'd be wrong. According to iRobot, “the i7 represents the upper end of our middle tier,” while the s9 is “premium tier.” This seems like it could be a bit of a disappointment for anyone who only just spent around US $1,000 on what was, for a few months anyway, arguably the best robot vacuum out there. But if it makes you feel any better, the s9+ (with the dirt dock) will cost a staggering $1,299 when it goes on sale on 9 June. The m6 is more reasonable, retailing for $499 with its charging dock included.
For Roomba i7 early adopters, we should reiterate that the i7 does communicate with the m6, which lets you to take advantage of the tag-team vacuuming and mopping behavior. Unfortunately, the s9 does not work with the i7's dirt dock, which, honestly, is a bit bothering. iRobot told us that it's because the position of the bin in the s9 is various and so the access port has to be in a different place, and also that there are different electronics inside the base to help the s9 charge faster.
Whenever we post about these super fancy Roombas, we try to keep things in context by pointing out that earlier generations (you know, the round ones) do a absolutely decent job of cleaning floors, even if they don't make maps or get the dirt instantly sucked out of them. If you really want a robot to vacuum your floors, a Roomba that costs a third of the price of the s9 will definitely clean your house almost as well, albeit with a little bit more effort on your part.
Also, with the s9 specifically, the most fascinating thing (we think) is that 3D sensor on the front, which is probably capable of doing more for iRobot gadgets than it’s currently being using for. The inter-robot communication thing is a big deal too; there are lots of ways that we can picture robots being able to integrate more usefully into our lives. But they're not there yet, and it's perfectly practical to say, okay, let's wait see what iRobot manages to do with this new innovation over the next six months or a year before dropping nearly $2,000 on a new team of floor cleaning robots. Besides, at this rate, they'll have a newer and way fancier robot out by then anyway. My guess? An anti-gravity system to go up and down stairs, lasers to zap pollen right out of the air, and an inertial agitation system that softly shakes your whole house to loosen up even the most stubborn clumps of dirt.
This article is originally posted on IEEESPECTRUM.com
This article is originally posted on IEEESPECTRUM.com