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What to expect when you're expecting a robot
If you decide to give a robo-vac a try, there are a few simple steps to take that can allow the bot to work better and to ensure it does what you want. My first piece of advice may seem counterintuitive, but you should give your house a thorough vacuuming before you unleash your robot on it. Robo-vacs aren't meant to clean up weeks or months of accumulated filth in a single go. Rather, they're built to help keep a clean house clean over time. Since we know that some TR readers have cleanliness issues with their PCs, I don't feel bad suggesting that the same problem might extend to their homes. Don't make your robot suffer—do it a solid and clean up first.

Part of that clean-up should also include consideration of the clutter that may be on your floor. If you schedule cleanings, you'll soon get used to spot-checking your floor for socks or cat toys before your robot does its thing. The same pre-planning should extend to furniture and fixtures, as well. Your robot will quickly show you the areas it can get stuck the first time it runs, but if you think about challenging terrain in advance and rearrange your home accordingly, you'll get better performance out of your bot to start with. Think of it as that PC cable-rerouting project you've been putting off.

Of course you can use your robot's Virtual Wall or boundary marker to cordon off problem areas. Since my dogs ate all my Virtual Walls years ago and those magnetic strips are hard to hide, I generally attack the problem at the source or go with a lower-tech solution like the bumper shown below.


Yeah, rackin' up bills with my mad vacuuming skills. Upgrading my robot for thrills.

I think the best way to determine the schedule for running your robot is to go by the contents of the dust bin after a cleaning. Don't make this judgment call right away. Let your robot clean every day for the first couple weeks. Depending on how full the bin gets, decide whether you need to keep running it daily or if you can reduce the frequency of cleanings. Just be sure to empty the bin and at least check the brush after each run.

When you do set your bot's cleaning schedule, you'll want to think about what will be happening in your house at the time. Just like you wouldn't schedule a backup or AV scan in the middle of your regular gaming night, you don't want your robot to vacuum during times of peak household activity. That isn't to say that it's always the right call to let your robot vacuum unsupervised though. Even if you've prepared well and are confident it won't get stuck, there could be at least one more important variable at play.

A word about pets
Robot vacuums and pets are at once the best and worst combination. Pet hair is the single biggest reason I need a robot to vacuum my entire house daily. Without my Neato doing its job, pet-hair-tumbleweeds take over my floor in less than a week. Conversely, pet, uh, mess, is the cause of my worst robo-vac disasters.

All of my robots have had run-ins with pet mess. I've had robots spread mess on the carpet, fill with mess until they stop running, and, in an unfortunate incident involving knit-booties, actually mop the floor with mess. It's not pretty, people. I'd rather remove malware from a relative's PC than extract pet mess from the I/O ports of a robo-vac, but you've gotta do what you've gotta do. Eventually I got smart and adjusted my bots' schedules so that I was always awake to check for mess first, but let this be a word of warning to you.


Wanna roll wit my crew, hah? Hunt dust bunnies and bore felines like I do?

Conclusions
It takes a certain level of fondness to willingly clean pet mess out of a robot. It's human nature to personify inanimate objects, and that seems to be especially true of robots, even robot vacuums. I appreciate the work my robots do, and I can't help but feel pity for them when something bad happens to them or they break down. That dynamic makes me inclined to take good care of them, which ends up being an interesting and educational enough activity for me to consider my bots a hobby.

If you're on the fence about trying a robo-vac out for yourself, a good option to consider is a refurbished Neato XV-21. These bots are easy to find for about $200, and should work well while providing a good platform to learn something new. Heck, with memory and SSDs so cheap, stagnating CPU performance, and a pending GPU die shrink, what else are you going to spend your computing budget on?

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