On Tuesday, our cleaning aid cleans the house. There is nothing as lovely as arriving in a thoroughly cleaned house. Unfortunately, it doesn't stay clean for very long. We have three children, and sometimes it seems as if more food ends up on the ground than in their stomachs.
In 2013, when I was still living a bachelor's life in a small apartment with two cats, I had about the same problem. Cats are sweet animals but also very filthy. Back then, I decided to buy a robot vacuum cleaner, an iRobot Roomba. That thing was, in retrospect, the most clumsy piece of technology I've ever brought in.
That piece of crap just drove straight until it encountered an obstacle, then chose a random angle and continued. Until he ran into something again. After 30 minutes, it considered the job done. It didn't matter if he had reached every spot or not.
But the year is now 2020, and robotic vacuums have evolved. Maybe we should buy a new robot friend?
Down the rabbit hole
I started to investigate robot vacuum cleaners and had these requirements in mind:
- Smarter than the old Roomba. No crisscrossing.
- Does the job without having you clean the room first.
- The cleaning has got to be good.
I learned in my search that there are Youtube channels like Vacuum Wars that deal with nothing but vacuum cleaners. Ever want to see two robotic vacuum cleaners go into a duel? Or want to see a robot vacuum cleaner move on a well-thought-out trail? Vacuum Wars offers binge material.
The second thing I learned is that Chinese brands deliver a lot more bang for bucks than Western ones and are more advanced technologically. You can buy a Chinese robot for the same money as a dumb Roomba (which barely navigates better than my model from 7 years ago). A robot that, besides vacuuming, mops, navigates with laser and has a handy app.
After a lengthy comparison, I came up with these three models:
- The Xiaomi VIOMI V3: a vacuum cleaning/mopping robot of about 400 euros with a giant water reservoir. However, this one is only available at Chinese webshops (which can result in poor service).
- The Roborock S5 MAX: a vacuum cleaning/mopping robot in the same price range as the VIOMI, described by many reviewers as the perfect robot. At Bol.com, you can obtain it for 460 euros. On Aliexpress, you can find it below 400 euros.
- The Roborock S6 MAXV: everything from the S5 MAX, but more powerful and with two front cameras and a faster processor running a Tensorflow AI model that, unlike the laser, recognizes small obstacles.
I'm a geek, so I bought the one with Tensorflow AI. There are usually many toys around our house, so having one with two cameras is a plus.
In the box, there is the robot and mop accessory, a charging station, the manuals in perfect English, and a spare filter. Too bad you don't get an extra mop. Luckily, you can find spare parts on Aliexpress for little money.
After removing the essential protection, installing the app, and filling the water tank, it was then time for the first cleaning round.
The very first thing that catches the eye: the Roborock S6 MAXV navigates flawlessly.
The first time the Roborock starts in a room, the LIDAR (Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging) will fully sketch it. Walls and other obstacles will get plotted on a map, and the robot will use that map the next time to navigate more efficiently.
The S6 MAXV can store four floors (or rooms) in its memory, and therefore knows where it is when you place it somewhere in your home. If you have more than four rooms, the robot will remove the least recently used room and map it again when you ever return there.
After cleaning, the robot drives nicely to his charging station to charge. And if you have such a big house that it can't clean it on one battery charge, then it will recharge until it has just enough to get the job done. But then you have to have a massive house because I estimate that one battery charge should be enough to clean more than 100 square meters.
The most significant difference between the S6 MAXV and the cheaper S5 MAX is the addition of two cameras. Why two? To be able to see depth just like we humans.
The robot's powerful 8-core processor pumps the images from these cameras to a neural network (AI) to analyze the image. The AI knows many things ranging from shoes and clothes to dog poop and then assesses whether to drive around in a big bow or not.
The classification of objects works ok. The AI identified a tennis ball lying around in the kitchen to be dog crap, and even though it is trained on plug blocks, but not on loose cables. So the robot stays away from a plug block, but he can take on a USB cable lying around a road trip throughout your house.
Firmware updates are released regularly so that the AI will get better and better in the future.
A nice side feature of the cameras is that you can watch while cleaning and even control the robot like a remote-controlled car.
Privacy & Security
But what about privacy? Is it a good idea to bring in a robot vacuum cleaner from a Chinese manufacturer with two cameras and a processor powerful enough to classify everything in your home?
Roborock promises that the S6 MAXV will send no images to the cloud. It will store all the photos he takes from unknown objects locally. They also had this certified by independent party TÜV Rheinland.
I looked at the communication between the app and the vacuum cleaner myself. I also checked which connections the robot makes and what they claim turns out to be correct. Only when you view the camera feed from the outside (not on your Wifi) the images pass through their servers (located in Europe).
If you are afraid that Xi Jinping is watching in your house, you can turn off watching from a distance. If Xi is watching, the robot vacuum cleaner says "Remote viewing activated" every 10 seconds. Secretly keeping an eye on your roommates isn't an option.
Everything is hackable, but it reassures me that security has been carefully considered and that an external party has also validated it.
The firmware of the S6 MAXV is also protected. You cannot replace it with a modified version of a third party. There were cool hacks for the previous Roborock models (such as allowing you to use it as a Chromecast). Those hacks won't be possible on the S6 MAXV.
The most important thing about a robot vacuum cleaner is, of course, whether it absorbs all the dirt well. The S6 MAXV is about twice as powerful as the average handheld vacuum cleaner. That's powerful enough to get rid of dust and stuff lying around like cereal.
Every night our robot cleans the downstairs, and it's spotless.
Does that mean you really should never vacuum again? No. Of course, a robot vacuum cleaner can't do anything, so you'll still have to clean occasionally. A Dyson will probably get just that little bit more dirt from between the wooden boards at the turbo setting.
A question you get a lot if you have a robot vacuum cleaner is: "and how is it in the corners?". We have no complaints. The side brush does its job very well.
ne of the things that triggered me to choose Roborock was the built-in mop function. Because anyone who's ever cleaned a room knows you won't get there with vacuuming alone.
How does this work?
During vacuuming, the robot wets a removable mop and then mops the room. Cleaning products could break the water pump, so it should be tap water without additives.
You can set the amount of water to use per room in the app, which works well. The result is as if you've cleaned with a wet Swiffer pad.
With its 300ml, the water reservoir is somewhat on the small side. If you choose the maximum setting, you'll have to refill regularly.
I am a big fan of Home Assistant. This open-source project brings together all the smart things in your home in a straightforward interface and where you can then create automation.
I was hoping that I could integrate my S6 MAXV into this, but unfortunately. You can use the (more limited) Xiaomi app instead of the Roborock app. It should be possible to start the vacuum cleaner from Home Assistant using this approach. Still, you'll have to wait for Roborock to open its API or until the firmware gets hacked for integration like the screenshot below.
That's a shame for people like me who like to fiddle. I contacted Roborock, and they said they were going to look into it. In the meantime, the Roborock app is decent, and you can also pair it with Alexa and Google Home.
Do I recommend then Roborock S6 MAXV? Certainly. We've had him for almost two weeks now, and he hasn't let us down for a moment.
It's nice to come down every morning in a clean dining room, vacuumed, and mopped. In a house with three children, everything gets dirty everywhere quickly, and it's a small blessing to have to clean less.
In addition to cleaning (which he does excellently), there is also the nerdy technological stuff. It's cool to have a product that can navigate flawlessly and intelligently, thanks to the laser (LIDAR) and the cameras. Using AI only makes it more outstanding.
But do you need those AI and cameras? I think if you don't have children or pets, you can do it without them. The few things the AI picks up are limited: socks, toys, and plugs. If you think about putting these aside in advance, the AI adds very little. You have to miss the live video feed, which is a fun party trick.
You get a lot of your money's worth at Roborock. Suppose you look in the same price range at the Western brands. In that case, you usually have no mop function, no cameras, and sometimes (hello Roomba!), not even LIDAR.
I therefore strongly recommend the Roborock S6 MAXV for anyone with children or pets, and I assume that the S5 MAX is an equally good purchase for everyone else.