Kevin Hunt: Review: Ecovacs Deebot robotic vacuum

Stop picking on robotic vacuums. If their brains were any bigger than a computer chip, maybe they'd be parking your car instead of cleaning your floors.

The Deebot D77, the vacuuming robot from Ecovacs, is so dumb that it can't stop cleaning until its battery runs low. It cleans until it drops. But the obsessive-compulsive Deebot empties its dustbin automatically, which would leave the better-known Roomba, from iRobot, awe-struck. It's also savvy enough to coerce resident humans to join the cleanup — the Deebot arrives with a canister vacuum that attaches to its docking station.

Ecovacs christened the Deebot a "3D Vacuuming Robot" for that reason: The D77 handles two-dimensional flooring, leaving the above-floor third dimension, often known as curtains and cushions, to humans.

In the robot world, that certifies the D77 as smarter than the "RoboCop" remake.

After having the Deebot as a houseguest, and quasi domestic servant, the past several weeks, I wouldn't give up my brainless vacuum — a made-in-the-USA Metropolitan canister with HEPA filter. I would, however, welcome the D77 as chairman of the Routine Housecleaning Committee if I could stomach its $699.99 cost.

In a smaller home or apartment, the Deebot might be the only vacuum necessary. The Deebot costs as much as iRobot's Roomba 880 but includes the hand-held vacuum that's also the dust repository.

Ecovacs, makers of the window-cleaning Winbot robot and Famibot household assistant, designed D77's charging dock so the hand-held rests on top, like a space shuttle attached to NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. In that position, the D77 will offload its full dustbin into the hand-held.

Once charged — it takes three hours for the 2500mAh battery — the D77 is on full alert. It has a control panel with LCD screen, four cleaning modes, a programmable feature for scheduling cleanings and a hand-held remote.

I most often deployed the D77 in automatic cleaning mode so that it moved in a straight line until it struck something, redirecting its patch. The Deebot also has an intensive-cleaning mode, a spot-cleaning mode and an edge-cleaning setting. The D77 does not have boundary tracking, however, like the Roomba or Neato's robotic vacuums, that acts like an invisible fence. If you want it to clean a specific room, block the doorway or close the door. Then the D77 will clean the room until it's exhausted. Even my old Roomba knows when to quit after cleaning.

Compare that to the Neato Robotics vacuum, which scans a room and maps information on location of walls, furniture and other obstacles. It knows where it's going and knows when to quit.

The Deebot, meanwhile, has no smart-mapping skills. The D77's battery should last up to 100 minutes, about what the D77 spent on its first cleaning mission in a 10-by-12-foot room. My heart ached for the lil' Deebot, endlessly careening.

It's not mentioned in the owners manual, but a sympathetic owner can mercy-kill the cleaning cycle, sending the Deebot to its docking station by pressing the "Home" and "Pause/Play" or "Mode" and "Home" buttons on the remote.

Ultimately, the battery must be replaced long before it should.

The D77 had trouble with throw rugs and any thicker-pile carpet. It also got stuck on a bedroom doorway lip, where old wood flooring met new, under a dresser and on a lamp cord.

The hand-held is functional, good for basic cleaning, with accessories neatly stored in a plastic case. The D77, for a robot, is an effective cleaner: It tidied the messiest room in the house, where the cat's litter box and scratchpad reside.

Smarts aside, a programmed Deebot can clean a house for weeks without human intervention because of its auto-empty feature. Isn't that what you really want?

Ecovacs Deebot D77 3D Vacuuming Robot

Price: $699.99

The good: A vacuuming robot that comes with a hand-held vacuum, automatic dustbin emptying, multiple cleaning modes, quiet operation.

The not so good: Expensive, no smart mapping, cleans endlessly until battery wears down.


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