Design

Dyson Unveils Its Roomba-Killing Robotic Vacuum


Dyson, the maker of bagless vacuums that famously won’t lose suction, is releasing its first robotic model that it vows will be more powerful, effective, and intelligent than Roomba (IRBT) most other smart floor cleaners.

It took 16 years and $47 million to develop the Dyson 360 Eye, according to the company, and a version intended for launch in 2001 was shelved when executives weren’t satisfied with its performance. In the intervening 13 years, the company was able to vastly reduce the number of infrared sensors. Using eight sensors and a quick-snapping 360-degree camera, the 360 Eye can map out a detailed floor plan to navigate a room.

And since the robo-vacuum is equipped with cyclone technology and a digital motor, it actually sucks up dirt, unlike many of its competitors, says James Dyson. The British inventor claims in a statement, “Most robotic vacuums don’t see their environment, have little suction, and don’t clean properly. They are gimmicks.”

The 360 Eye “sees” its surroundings using a vision system developed over more than 100,000 hours by 31 robotic software engineers, according to Dyson. The camera atop the circular machine takes up to 30 frames per second to help the vacuum interpret its environment. The internal software then processes each one of those images looking for standout features, such as the corner of a sofa, and uses trigonometry to calculate how far the robot is from each of those landmarks depending on how much things have moved in each image. Since the shutter speed of the camera matches the speed of the machine, the 360 Eye knows exactly where it is in the room and where it has yet to clean. The infrared sensors detect obstacles.

Dyson claims the 360 Eye solves the pesky problems of some robotic vacs, whose weak motors conserve battery power but don’t do a decent job cleaning. Engineers leveraged some of the features they had already developed for a different compact, cordless model—the DC59—including the latest cyclones, capable of picking up microscopic particles, and the V2 high-speed digital motor controlled by electrical pulses.

Like any other connected home appliance, the vacuum can be scheduled to do your housework using a smartphone app, which will also provide an activity map of where the robot has been and how long it took to finish. The machine self-docks and recharges when low on power, but the company says the lithium ion battery delivers a 20- to 30-minute run without a drop in performance.

Sound good? Here’s the rub: The vacuum will be available only in Japan starting in spring 2015, with the rest of the world to follow later in the year. No word yet on price, but a company spokesperson said it would be competitive with similar machines.

“The Japanese market is the biggest market in the world for robotic vacuums,” says Nick Schneider, a Dyson design engineer working on mechanical systems within robotics. “In addition to that, the Japanese market is known for being early adopters of new technology, so in terms of a start point for a global launch, we thought that would be best.”

Lanks is the design editor of Businessweek.com.

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