Domestic robots are invading Indian homes, doing jhadoo-pocha* tasks, but can they replace you -- or your cleaning lady?
By Anand Parthasarathy
Robotic vacuum cleaners and floor washing robots with sweeping and wet mopping functions, doing chores inside homes, is not exactly new. They have been around, for a decade and more in the US -- after a robotics engineer from the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, Rodney Brooks co-founded iRobot in 1990 with two colleagues. However the company's first domestic cleaning robot, Roomba was launched only in 2002.
Home cleaning robots were first introduced in India in 2012 by a domestic company founded by Rajeev Karwal, under the brand name Milagrow which today has a slate of half a dozen home cleaning robots including some for cleaning glass windows, swimming pools and lawns. They have also cannily adapted the technology to Indian needs, by getting most of their indoor range to do both jhadoo and pocha.|
iRobot has finally brought its flagship Roomba products to India a few weeks ago through Bangalore-headquartered Puresight Systems, offering models in 3 series -- 600, 700 and 800 -- all looking and working alike, with small variations in vacuum power, and ranging in cost from Rs 32,900 to Rs 69,900. I have been trying out the model 700 for a week. Like all models it has a pair of extractors rotating in opposite directions, to pick up debris from the floor. The extractors are enhanced by a vacuum, which directs the airflow through a narrow slit to collect fine dust. Another horizontally mounted "side spinner" brush sweeps against walls to reach debris not accessible by the main brushes and vacuum. The robot is powered by a battery that has to be recharged from mains through a docking station, which is the homebase to which it returns after its chores are done. It includes a cliff sensor so that it doesn't fall down stairs. To create no-go areas, which you don't want cleaned, you can build infra red 'virtual walls', using two additional 'Lighthouse' units provided
The robot is programmed by a built-in algorithm that follows a spiral path, cleaning in widening circles, and in another mode, follows the wall, changing its angle if it bumps into an obstacle like a chair leg. One common problem with floor cleaning robots is that hair on the floor tends to entangle in the rotating parts, slowing it down. But the Roomba has a very simple system to remove and clean the extractors. The Roomba 700 which is a mid range model costs Rs 49,900. The Roomba robots are dry cleaners. For wet mopping, iRobot has another product the Brava 380t for hard floors, which uses reusable cleaning cloths.( Rs 27,900)
Milagrow: Doing double duty
Milagrow has obviously studied the Indian use case well before launching its floor cleaning robots here. So their recent launch RedHawk 3.0 has what is claimed to be the largest dust receptacle and the largest brush for this class of robot. My wife and I have been using the RedHawk 1.0 for two years now -- so we can appreciate why a larger dustbin would be useful. Milagrow works in much the same way as other cleaning robots, but has added a few features of its own -- like an ultraviolet light source that sanitizes the floor after cleaning. Like the Roomba it also boasts a high efficiency air filter to remove fine particles.
For Indian users, the fact that the RedHawk also comes with a wet cleaning mode might be a plus point ( you have to moisten and attach the cleaning mop provided). This is good for one room, after which you have to wet the mop again. It costs Rs 25,990
For more dedicated 'pocha' Milagrow has just launched a full wet cleaning robot -- the AquaBot 4.0 with its own built-in water tank that costs an additional Rs 4000,while doing everything the RedHawk does. If you don't need wet cleaning, Milagrow has a basic dry model for Rs 13,999.
To sum up...
iRobot's Roomba range is a global brand and you have to pay a premium price. Milagrow is a desi design and offer a more affordable entry into the world of robotic cleaning. For home owners especially ones where both spouses have jobs, robotic floor cleaners are a huge advance on vacuum cleaners and will be good buy. But here is a small caveat: what with their programmed patterns and odd course corrections, they take their time. Humans can do the job in half the time. Robots may beat us at chess but in cleaning, you ( or your bai*) are more than a match.
*Jadoo and pocha: Hindi for sweeeping and cleaning. bai: literally 'lady', Hindi (especially Mumbai) usage for cleaning lady