When people first see iRobot Roombas in action, most of them don’t believe that they can cover the whole house with their random movements. Although most of the randomly roaming robots can really cover the area, they really seem inefficient. Why can’t robots clean in stripes or blocks like we humans do? Simply because most of the robots have no clue about the environment they are in.
It is quite surprising, since currently available technology would definitely allow these robots to be fully aware of the floor plan and the position of obstacles. The reason why these technologies are not in all of the household robots is price. The large number of sensors and the computing power to analyze the data of these sensors would make these robots so expensive that they would be completely out of range for most of the households.
This is something that Neato engineers and management could not accept as an excuse for not building smarter robots, so they started to research more affordable alternatives. They ended up with rotating laser rangefinders that report distances 360 degrees around the robot. This data, updated every second on a moving robot, would allow the device not only to map the room, but to precisely position the robot within this environment.
Laser rangefinders are nothing new. They have been around for some time, but they are not available for less than $2000 each. This alone makes them impractical in $400 devices. Thankfully, Neato has managed to build a rangefinder (they call it LDS — Laser Distance Sensor) that, while less precise on distances over 5 m (16 ft), only costs a fraction of the cost of competitors.($30 according to an interview with Max Safai, CEO of Neato Robotics.) This invention is the base of Neato XV-11, and this alone makes it so different from all the other robots out there.
Why is it important to have methodical cleaning if randomly moving robots can cover the whole house for cheaper? Robots that run in stripes only work as much as absolutely necessary. Therefore, they are capable of two things: they can use more battery power to vacuum (instead of using the power for unnecessary roaming) and they can temporarily suspend cleaning for a battery recharge, knowing where they left off work. These two capabilities might not be important in all homes, but could dramatically improve the cleaning quality in some. But more on that on the next few pages.
Since the announcement of Neato XV-11, several other versions of the robot were announced. A few months ago the robot arrived in Europe as Neato XV-15 and showed up in Target (in the US) as Neato XV-12. While the original version (the subject of our review) is green, the XV-15 comes in blue, while the XV-12 is white. Other than color (and, obviously, the power plug of the European model), all three of these robots are identical. They can have differences in their internal software, but as it is user updatable, all three models can be updated to the latest software at any time by the owner. (The robots can vary in bundled accessories.)
In Europe the Neato XV-11 comes in another version sold by the German company Vorwerk. The Vorwerk Kobold VR100 has a white shell similar to the XV-12, but this robot sports a few remarkable improvements, like Li-ion batteries, side brushes, better filter, etc. More about that on the specifications page.
Neato XV-11 comes in a rather large black box. One half of the box contains the robot itself (dust bin, filter and batteries are pre-installed), while the other box has all the accessories.