| Katja Fischer |
BERLIN (dpa) – Robots cost a bit more than regular home appliances for household chores like vacuuming and lawn mowing, but German experts say their time has come as the devices improve.
“The idea is no longer utopian,” says Claudia Oberascher, project manager at HEA, a German trade association that promotes energy efficiency. “There are already many robots in the home. They just don’t look like robots you see in science fiction movies.”
Vacuum-cleaning robots are small disk-shaped devices mounted on wheels that glide across floors and beneath furniture.
“They have been around for quite some time but the new machines are much better than the early models,” says Werner Scholz from Germany’s high-tech industry trade association, ZVEI.
“In contrast to the past, when robot vacuum cleaners just randomly travelled through an apartment, modern cleaners are so intelligent they can remember the location of an obstacle and intensively clean a regularly dirty area.”
Today’s robot vacuum cleaners are also much better at getting into corners.
Depending on how they are programmed, a robotic vacuum cleaner will carry out its duties several times a week. When its battery runs low, it returns to its base station for a recharge before re-commencing cleaning where it left off.
“You should make sure that there are not too many things lying around your home when the robot starts,” warns Oberascher.
Areas where the cleaner should not venture can be blocked off using small strips containing metal.
Fluffy carpets, high door thresholds, steps and cables are usually too difficult for a robot to clamber over.
“You should test a robot before buying one,” advises Scholz. “The best thing is to watch a demonstration.” The small robots also don’t have the same suction power as conventional, hand-operated vacuums do, you will occasionally have to do the work yourself.
“But they are great for keeping a large room in order.”
In Germany, 200,000 to 250,000 robot vacuum cleaners are sold every year, so they are no longer uncommon.
Other household robots also work best when they are given a large area to clean.
“A window-cleaning robot is not much use if you have to re-set it for every small pane of glass. It’s quicker to do it by hand,” says Scholz. “But it’s a different story when it comes to huge plate-glass windows, especially when they are difficult to reach all over.”
Robotic lawn mowers don’t work well in gardens with lots of corners. Just like a robot vacuum cleaner they need to recharge their batteries before continuing with the job. Occasionally they will get lost or an obstacle will stop them in their tracks.
“Only under ideal conditions will a robot lawn mower replace you, the sweating gardener,” says Christiane Boettcher-Tiedemann from Germany’s consumer tests institute Stiftung Warentest.
Not every model reliably comes to a complete halt when it meets an obstacle.
Warentest also found models with badly designed safety sensors, where the blades continued to rotate when the testers picked the robot up a certain way.