Dyson finally unveils a robot vacuum

It took 16 years, $47 million, and more than 200 engineers, but Dyson has finally released a robot vacuum.

Called the Dyson 360 Eye, it uses Dyson's V2 brushless DC motor—the same unit that powers Dyson's popular cordless vacuums—for optimal cleaning performance. It gets around on tank-like tracks instead of wheels, can be remotely controlled using a smartphone app, and navigates using a unique camera-based system.

As a result, the 360 Eye is the first robot vacuum that company founder James Dyson considers worthy of his name.

"Most robotic vacuum cleaners don't see their environment, have little suction, and don't clean properly. They are gimmicks," he said at the 360 Eye's launch event in Tokyo. "We've been developing a unique 360° vision system that lets our robot see where it is, where it has been, and where it is yet to clean."

In addition to infrared sensors, a panoramic camera mounted on top of the vacuum takes photos of the area it's cleaning. The vacuum's software examines the photos for landmarks, and analyzes them to recall where it's already cleaned.

Photos are taken at 30 frames per second — exactly matched to the speed the vacuum is traveling — so the 360 Eye can make split-second decisions regarding where it needs to clean next.

The software engineering alone took 100,000 hours, and resulted in an ongoing partnership with the robotics lab at London's Imperial College.

It also marks another advance in camera-based navigation, which some of Dyson's competitors have already brought to market.

While many popular robot vacuums get around like protozoans — moving forward until hitting an obstacle, turning, and continuing until they hit something else — Miele's RX1 Scout and LG's Hom-Bot also use camera-based systems that are similar to the one found on the new Dyson unit.

Of course, vacuums also need to clean, and Dyson claims the 360 Eye's brush design will help it pick up dirt instead of spreading it around. The vacuum uses Dyson's Radial Root Cyclone filter technology, and promises 20 minutes of cleaning time from a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

The Dyson 360 Eye will go on sale first in Japan, but it's highly likely we'll be seeing it on U.S. shores soon.


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