IFA 2013: Exclusive report from Ecovacs

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For the average IFA visitor Ecovacs is probably a window cleaning robot maker. Most of them only see the autonomously crawling unit that restlessly cleans the large sheet of glass at the entrance of the company's booth. Not too many of them see behind that transparent wall. Too bad because all the interesting new robots were inside.

The most notable new product was the Deebot D93 vacuum cleaning robot that was not only new in shape and style, but brings an entirely new technology to Ecovacs' portfolio. This robot besides looking very much like the American Neato, it works very similarly to that as well. The little elevation on the top hides a rotating laser sensor that constantly measures distances to objects around the robot. This allows the Deebot D93 to draw a map of the house and move and clean the room systematically within that map, like the Neato does.

Although the design of the D93 is not as clean and simple as that of the Neato, it holds a few addition compared to the American role model. The most obvious are the two side brushes that improves cleaning efficiency along the walls and furniture significantly. The other important feature is that a new smart phone app is available to the robot that can not only control the behaviour of the vacuum cleaner, but is able to show where the robot has cleaned already and where it still has to go. Virtual walls, and at this time I really mean virtual, can be set up just by drawing a line on the map displayed on the phone's screen.

The Ecovacs Deebo D93 handles rooms separately, just like the Neato. It finishes a room before it goes to the next one. It starts to clean an area by going around following the walls, but the small area at the booth didn't provide information on how the robot would handle larger areas.

The bottom of the robot is built on a slightly different design principal than the american competitor. The brush bar is shorter and it is further away from the front of the robot. The Deebot D93 sucks the air in a narrower strip, but on hard floor the side brushes can help to collect the dust. On hard surfaces the remaining particles are collected by the fairly sized microfiber cloth that is an optional attachment on the back of the robot.

The Ecovacs Deebot 9 series will be available in three versions. The most simple version will not have the smart phone app connection and will sell for 499 Euros. The middle model will be remotely accessible through a smart phone app and will cost 499 Euros. For €799 the top of the line version will have the smart phone app support and will come with the self-emptying docking station. The new robots will be available in China at the end of November, but customers in the US and in Europe will have to wait until January 2014 to get their hands on any of these robots.

The Deebot D93 was not the only new product at the Ecowacs booth. Right next to it stood the new Deebot D83 what is just a regular vacuum cleaner robot, but the first in the Ecovacs line that tries to win customers with its design. The brushed golden top plate looks nice in itself, but the hidden control panel and the elegant and simple Start button is what makes this new robot outstanding. The door on the top hides the newly designed dust bin, but the rest of the robot is built on the same technology as its predecessors. On hard floors it can use an extra disposable cloth to collect the residual dust.

And we are far from being done. Ecovacs has displayed the two small and very simple robots that I was writing about before the event.They are as simple as they can be, suitable to small, hard floor areas. They are available in several different colors in China, but only the red and gold versions are intended to be sold in Europe.

When I thought that I have seen everything, the head of the company raised his hand quietly to let me know that he has one more thing to show me. He went to the little storage space of the booth and returned with a boring looking robot, a computer and an access point. It turned out that the test unit, called Gabi 2 is a prototype of Ecovacs next generation vacuum cleaning robot. Ecovacs and it's research team is working on a new mapping system that uses a laser and a camera on the front of the robot to discover the world around the device. According to Mr. Qian the new system will be more precise than the currently used laser on the D93. In the quick demonstration he showed how the robot can keep the map of the house and navigate within that map. The robot was sent from one spot to the other and it completed the tasks quickly and precisely. The new robot will be called Deebot D11 and it will arrive sometime in 2014.

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