Raise of the Robots: Best Robot Vacuums and Lawnmowers

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In this article, I cover the best robot vacuum cleaners, the best robot lawn mowers, and more!

Fifty-five years ago, The Jetsons promised us robot house cleaners and self-cleaning devices (though with a shocking health-and-­safety record).

While Rosie the Robot might still be a few years away, more practical robots already exist.

Task-specific design is what makes it possible for A.l. machines to tackle basic chores around the home. That's even true of the Asimo, the famous walking, talking robot designed by Honda which had even played football with President Obama.

In 2018, though, the company announced that it would be retiring the friendly humanoid robot and concentrating its efforts on smaller, more practical devices.

ROBOT VACUUMS

There's no question that it's lovely to leave a messy home as you head out to work and experience the pleasure of a clean one on your return.

Robot vacuum cleaners are designed to achieve just that and, while they might not boast that human touch, there is a lot to recommend them.

They don't need a wage for one thing, and they can be programmed to get to work every day of the week, once you're all out of the house or at school, so the floor will be cleaned whether you remember to do anything or not.

Most robot vacuums are about 30cm across, like big pucks, and will navigate your space using IR and collision sensors, avoiding furniture and anything big left out.

The motors are not as powerful as 'manned' cleaners, but then they don't need to be, as the robot isn't worried about spending too much time on any one task.

Designers aim to keep the machines short so they can pass under as much furniture as possible, but the downside is that even a very slight step between rooms can be an issue.

For bigger steps, like those on a staircase, there will generally be a sensor on the robot vacuum cleaner to detect a drop and avoid it.

KEY FEATURES TO LOOK FOR

  • Battery life How much cleaning can it do on a single charge? 1.5-2 hours is normal.
  • How does it charge? Some cleaners can automatically return to their own docking stations, while others need to be plugged in. Positioning the docking station somewhere discreet can be an issue.
  • How does it clean? Some robot vacuum cleaners use a horizontal rotating brush to beat the carpet and lift dirt, others complement this with corner brushes like a street sweeper.
  • What surfaces does it clean? Some robots are designed with mops, others only for carpets.
  • Can you set limits? There are different ways to restrict a robot vacuum to working in a specific area, ranging from markers the machine can detect to setting restrictions in an app.
  • What gaps can it get through? Both width and height are factors to think about.
  • How smart is it? Collision sensors will help a robot vacuum avoid objects or falls, while better intelligence will help it plot more efficient routes around the room for more even, more complete cleaning.

BEST ROBOT VACUUM CLEANERS

EUFY ROBOVAC 11C

With a built-in 1.5-hour Lithium Ion battery charged at a charging station, as well as side brushes, the RoboVac 11c is started by remote control.

Its navigation isn't genius though - it just keeps going, surprisingly quietly, until it gets to an obstacle and then makes a turn.

Eventually it should make enough journeys from turn to turn until it has covered all of the carpet at least once.

IROBOT ROOMBA i7+

This is the most famous brand in this category, the one that started it.

There is a full range, beginning around $600, but this high-end model empties on its own and is able to methodically navigate rooms, adjusts suction power depending on the surface, and can be restricted using virtual wall emitters - small boxes included with the robot that project virtual walls or small no-go areas that the machine will avoid.

DYSON 360

This is what the iconic Dyson cyclone looks like when compressed into a robot.

It is smaller and taller than other robot vacuums (24cm diameter, 12cm tall), bagless and cordless.

It elegantly restricts itself to a single button, and uses its top-mounted camera to navigate methodically.

It can be started via the app, but perhaps the best element is the caterpillar-style tracks rather than wheels, giving the device outstanding grip.

NEATO ROBOTICS D7

Built with a D-shape, its design means it's able to get a full-width brush into the corners of rooms rather than make do with external brushes.

Automatically returns to the charging base whenever needed, but you can start and monitor it via Alexa, phone, Apple Watch or Google Home. Better yet, the app builds a map and allows you to create virtual no-go lines.

ROBOT LAWN MOWERS

One of life's great pleasures is a beautiful clean-cut lawn. There were, however, several design challenges to overcome before robots could tackle a less predictable environment like the garden.

The solution is generally to install a buried cable, which the robot lawn mower can detect, making it able to handle the more organic edges of a lawn where object detection would fail.

Traditional lawnmowers are also big, heavy, powerful and dangerous, but - just as with the vacuums - a lot of this is to do with speed and infrequency of use.

A robot can operate more often and so can be designed with blades more like shaving razors, and small clippings need not be collected but returned to the grass, providing extra nutrients (argue the manufacturers).

BEST ROBOT LAWN MOWERS

WORX WR150 LANDROID L 20V ROBOT LAWN MOWER

Best Overall

The Landroid L comes with a 9-inch cutting disc and can mows up to ½ an acre, with the capacity of weaving through narrow pathways.

If Landroid Robot Lawn Mower comes across obstacles, it will knock them and withdraw. Alternatively, you specifically eliminate areas of your lawn that you don’t want it to mow. It also handles slopes up to 20°.

If rain is detected, the Landroid will return to its charging station to wait until the lawn is dry.

There are many things you can do from the Landroid app, including measure your lawn, check mowing progress, keep software up to date, update your mowing schedule and more.

HUSQVARNA AUTOMOWER 315X ROBOTIC LAWN MOWER

Best Mulcher

The Husqvarna Automower 315X is suitable for yards up to 0.4 acres, slopes up to 22 degrees and grass up to 2.4 inches tall. This robot lawn mower is capable of continuous cutting, rain or shine.

Manage your mower's cutting schedule and track it's exact location with the Automower Connect app and start or stop your mower quickly via voice command using your Amazon Alexa or Google Home device.

Guided by hidden boundary wires, the Husqvarna Automower 315X can manoeuvre around your yard and knows exactly when to return to the charging station for a battery recharge.

You won’t disturb your neighbors again with fumes or noise, with a sound level Guaranteed: 60 dB(A).

ROBOMOW RS630 BATTERY POWERED ROBOTIC LAWN MOWER

Best for Larger Yards

With a pair of cutting blades cutting a width of 56cm, the Robomow RS630 robot lawn mower is capable of handling lawns as large as 3/4 acre (32,760 square feet).

It can handle an ascent of up to 20 degrees and run for around 80 to 100 minutes before charging, though at 74dB it is notably louder than other robotic mowers.

It is smarter, though, able to make smooth turns as it approaches the perimeter wire rather than stopping and backing up. It is also able to follow the wire to finish with an edge trim, and has a turbo mode for tricky grass.

Finally, there is a Bluetooth-connected smartphone app you can use to adjust the settings, and a GSM module so it can notify you when it's finished from well outside your home's Wi-Fi. The Robomow is also now part of the Alexa smart home ecosystem, cutting your grass on voice command.

WORX WR140 LANDROID M 20V POWER SHARE ROBOTIC LAWN MOWER

Best for Small Yards

The Landroid M is best for smaller yards, cutting lawns up to ¼ acre. Its features are almost the same as the Landroid L (discussed above).

ROBOT PETS

With Al learning advancing at pace, robotic pets have moved on from the days of Tamagotchi.

At CES 2018, the biggest consumer electronics event in the world, Sony re-launched its legendary robot dog Aibo, 20 years after the first version.

This machine really is a glimpse of things to come. It walks much like a real dog, and using two screens as eyes is able to convey a full range of emotion as it wags its tail, chases pink balls and sits up to shake hands or take a high five.

Plus, of course, it never leaves anything on the rug. It went on sale in Japan in January 2020 for slightly the wrong side of £1,500, so there is time to start saving.

ROBOT ASSISTANTS

Major companies and entrepreneurs alike have been quick to identify the possibility of making interactions with digital assistants a more natural experience, which means imbuing the devices with a little more personality.

Jibo was one such example, though sadly by attempting to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google directly - albeit with a smart speaker that expressed itself by moving its 'head' - it was not able to make it. Features and price won out over novelty.

Companion robots are still arriving though. A device a bit like the Pixar lamp is being trialed now by Intuition Robotics - the ElliO - and they're targeting the 'silver generation'.

There is also Buddy (US$549), who is able to get around the home on his own thanks to a base like a robot vacuum's, and use a screen to give you feedback. In practical terms, he monitors your home when you're out, and generally acts like a robot-pet-iPad hybrid.