I’ve been cohabiting with a robot slave, and though bObsweep claims its eponymous PetHair Plus vacuum doesn’t mind hard labor, I wasn’t convinced it would necessarily be the key to domestic bliss. My experiences with robot cleaners have led me to conclude that they have just as much of an appetite for stray cables and rugs as they do dust and dirt, but with one messy, frequently-shedding kitty in the house and a natural disinclination to vacuum myself, it seemed worth a try.
bObsweep gets kudos for the robot’s packaging: everything is laid out clearly and getting up and running is straightforward. The remote is circular and roughly the size of a saucer, with a basic display and buttons for setting the timer, switching modes, and manually navigating the vacuum around the room.
A grey and black plastic charging station sits against your skirting board and plugs into the mains, and then bObsweep sits atop its contacts to charge up. At first glance it looks like there’s a sizable LCD on top of the robot, but it’s actually a series of backlit legends for things like battery level, cleaning mode, and error messages. There are also shortcuts to start cleaning or end the current program.
Most of the time I hit “Go” and started a general cleaning program. bObsweep scoots off its charger and starts plying the room, using a combination of infrared sensors and a front bumper to figure out where obstacles and walls are. Like most robo-vacuums it can be frustrating to watch at times, as bObsweep sails unconcerned past a pile of dust as it follows its own internal map. Unlike more advanced recent robots, like Dyson’s 360 Eye, there’s no way to review where bObsweep’s navigation took it.
Those with darker carpets or rugs might experience some vacuum wariness, too. The IR system can be frustrated with dark colors; bObsweep says the bump sensor should offer a satisfactory backup (it clearly got some use, judging by the scuffing) and
there are stickers in the box to cover the IR sensors more permanently if your decor demands it. [Update: you can disable the IR sensors by holding down the “Checkup” button on the vacuum].
Meanwhile there’s a battery-powered beacon in the box, which can cast an invisible “do not cross” line in front of a doorway or other zone. Unlike many rivals, that box can optionally fire out two virtual barriers perpendicularly, allowing you to corner off an area.
A broad sweeper bar runs most of the way across the underside of the robot, but since it stops an inch or so from the sides there’s also a spinning four-brush whirligig on one corner which is intended to reach into corners or to the very edges of the room and flick dust into bObsweep’s maw. At times this can work very well: setting the vacuum loose around my cat’s litter box, the spinning brush coaxed stray litter out from the skirting board that the regular brush alone wouldn’t have captured.
It’s not infallible, mind, and the bristles are neither long nor bushy enough to get into 90-degree corners or recesses. [Update: bObsweep has subsequently redesigned the side brushes so that they’re “longer and bushier” the company tells me, and is sending me a set to test; I’ll update the review once I’ve had a chance to try them out]
Other modes include spot-targeting for impromptu cleanups. You can either place bObsweep near the offending area and press the mode button, or manually navigate him using the remote. It’s useful, but I found myself more likely to reach for a handheld rechargeable vacuum which was a lot quicker and easier.
Suction and dirt pickup overall are fair. In my experience with robot vacuums, they operate best when used regularly: several times a week, keeping things spick & span progressively, rather than once weekly for a more in-depth clean. As always, the edges of the room benefit from some human attention, but I can’t fault the performance elsewhere. There’s also a UV light which promises sterilization, too, though I’m not sure how effective that actually is.
The bin itself unclips from the back of the robot and slides out; it’s a plastic box with roughly 1 liter capacity. That’s bigger than many robot vacuums offer, and I’ve only had to empty it every five or six cleanings; there’s no warning “empty bin” notification, mind, so it’s up to you to check. Meanwhile, though there’s a partial cover, the bin is otherwise open so you have to be careful not to inadvertently shake out collected detritus if you pick bObsweep up.
That I discovered by making the mistake myself. The brush head had snagged on a loose carpet thread and pulled up a length of cord as a result, winding it around and causing the robot to shut down. You can unscrew the brush to remove such blockages, but I forgot to unclip the bin first and sent a shower of dust all over the partially-cleaned floor.
As always, you need to do a pre-emptive check of the floor to make sure any cables, slippers, or anything else small are cleared out of the way. No robot vacuum I’ve tested so far can resist the urge to try to suck up phone charger cords.
Assuming everything goes to plan, bObsweep’s battery lasts for up to around 75 minutes with the mixture of tile and carpet I tested on. The company warns that dealing with carpeted surfaces will see the battery drain faster. It also managed to get across a small lip between the two floor finishes, though got stuck on a step just shy of a half-inch in height. At the end of – or midway through – a cleaning session, the robot navigates to the charging station to refuel.
bObsweep may be pretty adept at finding his way back home, but it requires the charging station to do its job too. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly lightweight device, and there have been occasions when the robot has knocked it over or pushed it up at an angle. That’s left the vacuum stranded in the middle of the room, unable to figure out where to go.
Some self-adhesive velcro – either sticking it down to the carpet or the skirting board – would probably do the trick, and be an easy addition to the box. A full charge takes around four hours.
[Update: bObsweep tells me that the final design of the charging station has changed, gaining weight and some in-box stickers to help it stay in place. I’m waiting on the redesigned unit and will update accordingly once I’ve had a chance to test it out.]
bObsweep included the robot’s optional mop attachment, which clips underneath and promises to clean bathroom and kitchen floors. It’s not as set-and-forget as a scheduled vacuuming, however: the company recommends you supervise wet mopping, as if the robot gets stuck it’ll keep dispensing water. After a couple of attempts, I decided it was easier just to mop manually.
That describes the experience of living with a robot vacuum fairly well, in fact. It’s not a complete rescue from the chore of vacuuming, but it can take care of the more mundane parts. A quick run around the edges of the room to get the parts bObsweep couldn’t is par for the course.
Still, it does better at those problem areas than some other models I’ve tried and, though certainly noticeable, the whine of the motor isn’t as hurricane-loud as that of many rivals. If sharing the chores – rather than abdicating them altogether – is acceptable, the bObsweep PetHair Plus is happy to shoulder the more repetitive stuff, and though I don’t think it’s worth the $899 RRP, the roughly $405 street price is a lot more palatable.