Today robotic vacuum cleaners are a common sight in homes around the world. It’s estimated that robot vacuum cleaners make up about 23% of the worldwide vacuum cleaner market (as of 2017). But where did it all begin? This article is going to look at the history of the robotic vacuum cleaner and how these beloved little bots have become an important part of our everyday lives.
Until very recently, the concept of domestic robots belonged to the realm of science fiction. While the actual implementation of robotic technology is nothing like the human-like androids in science fiction movies, our present-day domestic robots do possess a great deal of intelligence and have taken over household tasks that we previously had to do manually. Of all the robotic technology used today, robot vacuum cleaners must be the most used and have had the biggest practical impact on our daily lives.
The story of the robot vacuum cleaner becoming a reality began in 1996. The concept and design of the world’s first autonomous vacuum cleaner or robotic vacuum was the brainchild of the inventor James Dizon. The well-known Swedish appliance manufacturer, Electrolux, was the first to realize the potential of this new and exciting concept. The company purchased the invention from Dizon. This led to the world’s first fully functioning robot vacuum cleaner – the Trilobite. Although this machine caused a slight sensation on television, appearing in Tomorrow’s World (a science program produced by the BBC), it didn’t make any real impression on the consumer.
Through the course of 2002 other manufacturers became aware of the potential that robot vacuum cleaners presented. New robotic vacuum cleaners were being introduced by several manufacturers and the race began for the improvement of the robotic technology used in these machines. In the same year, the first big step forward was taken by Neato with the introduction of laser-vision on their XV-11 model. Prior to this, robotic vacuum cleaners used ultrasound for navigation.
These early robot vacuum cleaners were rather crude beasts that relied mostly on the operator using a remote control to guide the device. Although the first robot vacuum cleaners had an autonomous mode which allowed them to clean unassisted, they were not very effective. These robotic vacuum cleaners had rudimentary navigation and would bump into obstacles and were often unable to recover from this, coming to a standstill. They also used a random path that made them very inefficient, cleaning the same area repeatedly whilst missing others. These factors, in combination with batteries that had a very short working time, meant that robotic vacuum cleaners couldn’t compete outright with the traditional vacuum cleaner market. They had, however, proven themselves to be a popular invention and this meant that companies were now spending generously on robotic research and development.
The next major breakthrough in robot vacuum cleaner technology came from Dyson, in 2014. The company produced a robot vacuum cleaner with a 360-degree camera mounted on the top of the machine. This was intended to improve the robot’s navigational ability, this model was also reputed to have much more suction power than any of the previous robotic vacuum cleaners. Since then all manufacturers have worked at improving the intelligence of their robots. Other breakthroughs include improved batteries and the use of smartphone technology to provide the user with a greater amount control and versatility in using the robot.
Today, robotic vacuum cleaners have advanced technology and improved computerized intelligence. The robot now scans the room to calculate the most effective cleaning path and how to best avoid obstacles. Many robot vacuum cleaners have long-term memories that continuously update their movements as they find better ways to improve their cleaning path. The use of more powerful and longer lasting lithium-ion batteries and super-efficient brushless electric motors means that modern robotic vacuum cleaners have greater suction power and work for longer periods before recharging the battery.