With a press release this morning, Dyson tidily answered some questions that have been in the back of our minds. Questions like:
1. What are they going to use those tiny, powerful digital motors they developed for?
2. What weren't they showing us in that Dyson Proving Grounds video from last year?
3. What does a company that spends £3 million on research every week put that money towards?
4. Why on earth does a company with just three product categories employ 2,000 engineers?
5. Why hasn't Dyson, with its expertise in vacuums, yet moved into the robot vacuum space?
With this morning's announcement of the Dyson 360 Eye, all of the answers have fallen into place. Their forthcoming robot vacuum has been in development for a staggering 16 years, and a close look at the thing explains what all of those R&D eggheads have been working on.
First off, the "most powerful suction of any robot vacuum" claim is what you'd expect with Dyson, particularly if you've used any of their products. (Look for our upcoming "Living With..." product review on the Dyson DC59.) As you'll see in the demo video below, the 360 Eye with that digital motor was designed to suck up way more dust than the competing robot vacs, including from the crevices between floorboards, in a single pass. This comes as no surprise.
What is surprising is the wayfinding technology they've come up with. Existing robot vacuums have sensors and algorithms that they use to bounce around rooms seemingly randomly, relying on multiple passes and path redundancy to get a room clean. Dismissing this method as primitive and inadequate, Dyson opted to go with vision.
They developed a 360-degree camera that shoots 30 frames per second and actually sees the room, and selects high-contrast points—the edge of a picture frame, the corner of a bookshelf, for instance—to triangulate its location in space.
Coupled with infrared sensors that detect obstacles, data is generated. Some 31 Dyson robotic software engineers spent north of 100,000 R&D hours figuring out how to turn that data into a mapping and navigation system, accurate to "within mm," that sets the machine on a minimal-overlap, lawnmower-like course.
Another innovation is where the rubber meets the road. Dyson eschewed the robot vac standard-issue rubberized wheels and opted for tank treads instead. This enables the 360 Eye to transition from hard floors onto taller rugs and carpets, and allows it clear doorway saddles between rooms.
Yet another innovation is with the cleaning head. On other robot vacuums, sidewinding feeder brushes are needed to sweep dust on the periphery of the 'bot's path in towards the main cleaning head. Dyson avoided the feeder brushes by making the main head run the entire width of the the unit, enabling the one brush to do all of the work. They added freaking carbon fiber bristles to smack the dust off of hard floors, while rows of nylon bristles are meant to agitate carpets.
Enough talk, let's have a look at the product demo:
Here's a side-by-side comparison of the 360 Eye with a competitor's product, and a closer look at some of the engineering:
And here's a closer look at the camera and navigation system:
For reasons unknown, Dyson has opted to launch the 360 Eye first in Japan, in Spring of next year, with a worldwide release coming later in 2015.