Thermomix kitchen robot can replace all your small appliances

If I said one device could replace nearly every kitchen appliance you own, you’d probably think I was starting a late-night infomercial. But an appliance I’ve discovered may actually be able to deliver on that promise. It’s called a Thermomix, and though it’s very popular in Australia and Europe, it’s virtually unknown in Canada and the US. Continue reading “Thermomix kitchen robot can replace all your small appliances”

iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration

Regular readers and viewers know I’ve become pretty attached to my iRobot Roomba vacuum. (Read my review of the newest iRobot 980 here, or the BraavaJet 240 mopping robot here to see why.)

This week iRobot announced it was making some pretty serious upgrades to the cloud connectivity of the iRobot app. You’ll remember from my Roomba 980 review that in the newer generation of robots you could control the vacuum from outside the home via the app and cloud, and that it has better ‘sight’ to find its way around your home and obstacles. Now the 900 series devices have mapping capabilities so you know exactly what’s getting cleaned and what’s not. Continue reading “iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration”

Smart mirror is robot concierge for hotels

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonic
Panasonic + IBM’s smart mirror – your digital concierge.

At the world technology show CES 2017 today, Panasonic and IBM have introduced a product that will help travelers make the most of an unfamiliar city.

Smart mirror is digital concierge

Built into hotel room mirrors (which are essentially transformed into large touch screen computer terminals), this smart mirror concept is basically a robot concierge which provides words and pictures on the mirror to help you navigate news, weather, messages and more. The Panasonic Digital Concierge, as it’s been called, applies IBM’s ‘Watson’ computing power to a digital mirror designed specifically for hotels and other hospitality industry customers.

Mirror, mirror on the wall….

Need restaurant recommendations? The mirror can help you. Want to know what time you’ll need to leave for a meeting? Ask the mirror. You talk, it helps.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonicSmart mirror specially made for hotel industry

“Panasonic has identified a need for this and several other kinds of connected solutions in the hospitality industry,” said Yasuji Enokido, president of Panasonic Corporation’s AVC Networks Company.  “Working with IBM, we plan to further implement our connected solutions vision while making use of Watson intelligence to provide end-users with more natural cognitive functionality as well as richer feature sets.”

While some guests may prefer the personal touch of a face-to-face interaction, others like the privacy of accessing information from the comfort of the hotel room. While there’s no mention of cameras inside the device, I can see some folks being weirded out by such a technologically connected device presiding over the room when they’re walking around naked.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonic

“IBM Watson gets to truly know the individual and provides highly personalized experiences and recommendations,” said Bruce Anderson, Global Managing Director, IBM Electronics Industry.  “Together with Panasonic we are bringing the power of cognitive to the hospitality industry to introduce a new level of customer service and Coming soofurther brand loyalty.”

The Panasonic Concierge is on display at CES 2017. There’s no indication of where or when you might find it in a hotel any time soon.

iRobot Roomba 980 is all new: more power, more smarts

irobot roomba 980iRobot, the makers of the Roomba vacuum have updated their top of the line robot housekeeper with some brand new technology.

The Roomba 980 looks a little different from previous models; (read my review of the iRobot Roomba 880 HERE) mainly sleeker, slimmer and with a more streamlined control panel.

I had the chance to live with the 980 for several weeks, and to compare it to the earlier 880 model too. Watch my video review & test too; scroll down the page to see it.

What’s new with iRobot Roomba? 980 is all new

There are three primary upgrades to the autonomous vacuum robots: navigation, cloud connectivity, and a new motor that does better on carpet.

Roomba Upgrade #1: Improved Navigation

That window in the bottom of the photo is the irobot roomba camera.
That window in the bottom of the photo is the camera.

The Roomba 980 has a host of improvements on the navigation front. There’s a brand new camera in the top of the robot which helps it find its way around obstacles and rooms. Two optical sensors in the undercarriage work similar to your computer mouse; they read the location on a surface to track the device’s position. This allows the device to see and understand its position in your home. Like previous versions, the Roomba also recognizes drop-offs like staircases, and learns to avoid them, backing away from any cliffs.

No more ‘lighthouses’

The new 980 can also do more; while the previous version 880 was really only able to take on three rooms at a time, and required ‘lighthouses’ to draw the Roomba 880 in to more distant areas. with the new technology, Roomba 980 can find his way around the entire floor of the home, and even learns it’s way around so you are less likely to find the robot stranded in a distant room (a quirk of the 880).

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Knows when to recharge

The Roomba 980 also knows when its time to recharge. It will clean as much as it can on a single charge, then return to its charging base to re-juice.

If you’re watching the new Roomba 980 clean you’ll notice it uses a much more linear grid pattern, and that its movements seem more deliberate than previous models. That comes from, in part, the new navigational guts which create kind of a map of your home, which it them learns to follow. Move some furniture? No problem, Roomba 980 will learn to adapt.

Roomba Upgrade #2: Cloud Connection

irobot roomba appThe new Roomba 980 can now be controlled with your smartphone. Using the iRobot Home app, you can start and stop the cleaning cycle from anywhere. You can also set and change schedules and adjust settings easily, and order up extra passes over extra dirty areas. It’s a handy feature I like because if I go out and want the robot to sweep up while I’m gone (but forgot to turn it on or schedule the cleaning), it’s a single click, and I can come home to a tidy dog-hair-free floor.

The app is very easy to use, and also allows you to manage multiple robots (and name them; fun!), including the iRobot BraavaJet mopping robot. (Read a review of that device here)

The app will let you know too when the dustbin is full, and you can also sound a tone to find the robot if it disappears under a bed. One other handy feature of the app is built in help if you need it and a direct portal to the iRobot store to buy things like replacement mopping pads for the BraavaJet.

Roomba Upgrade #3: New motor & “Carpet Boost”

The final major upgrade to the Roomba system is a new motor for the 980 version. The new motor has a built in feature that attacks carpet dirt better than previous robots. “Carpet Boost” as the technology is called can detect rugs, and when it does it cranks up the motor to increase suction to pull dirt from the fibers.

That low/high switch actually allows the robot to have a longer battery life (closer to 2 hours), since the increase in power only cranks on when it’s needed.

Roomba 980 – Can you see a difference?

The differences between the new Roomba 980, and previous versions may not be stark, but they’re there. I quickly noticed the more linear cleaning pattern on the 980, but I also really heard it when the carpet boost kicked in.

Another difference I noticed was the amount of debris and pet hair that collected in the dustbin; there’s more collecting in the 980. I checked with iRobot to make sure it’s not any bigger, and it’s not, but what is happening is that the more powerful motor is picking up more dirt, compacting it and thus it looks like it’s holding more.

The 980 is obviously more expensive than other robots in the iRobot line, but with the new features it seems worth it.

My take – iRobot Roomba 980
I never thought I’d need a robot vacuum, but I have to say, after living with one for so long, I don’t want to give it up. It takes care of pet hair in particular really well, and saves swiffering daily. I love the fact it can be scheduled to clean when I’m out, or that I can turn it on from the office via the app.

The 980 gets under furniture easily, and does a pretty good job at corners, considering it’s round. I found it super handy, too, for spot cleaning dry spills or crumbs.

While there’s no denying this device is an investment, and you’ll probably still need a second vacuum to do the heavy duty deep cleaning (stairs, blinds, etc), but at least the Roomba 980 will ensure you have to drag out the full sized vacuum a lot less.

The iRobot Roomba 980 is $899US / $1099 from the iRobot website. (The previous model 880 is $599US / $849CAD) You can also find them at places like Best Buy.

 

 

 

Robot Lawn Mower from Husqvarna saves your summer: Review

Husqvarna Automower lawn robot grass canada calgarySome folks LOVE yard work; for many others, cutting grass is a chore that eats into your time off. Consider then, that you could get a device that takes care of all your lawn cutting needs; the Husqvarna Automower robot lawn mower will cut your grass and keep your yard in shape all without you needing to lift a finger.

Husqvarna Automower is a robot lawn mower

The Husqvarna Automower is a relatively new product in Canada, but it’s been hugely popular in Europe for some time (and boy, do the Europeans have fun with their automowers! From racing stripes, to cammo to ladybugs, they’re totally customizeable.).

The mower is slightly smaller in size than a standard lawn mower, and has no handle.  Small wheels keep it moving, and a small panel in the top allows you to make adjustments as needed.husqvarna mower ladybug

What can the robot lawn mower for for me?

The Automower can be set on an electronic schedule, so it will keep your lawn trim all season long.  The robomower doesn’t go out once per week and slice down the lawn by two inches, instead it mulches the lawn by cutting very small amounts each day; the lawn will appear as though it just stops growing.  The robot is fully autonomous, and will find its way around your yard mulching grass until it needs to return to its base station for a recharge.

How the Husqvarna Automower work?

husqvarna automower review calgary robomower
Guidewire laid in the grass and held in place with stakes.

The mower should be professionally installed. A Husqvarna dealer can help with planning and layout for your new set up.

First, you need to lay a guidewire around your yard so the robot knows where its boundaries are.  While this sounds simple, a small break in your guide wire can render your whole wiring job useless.  It took three pros about 6 hours to properly set up my boundaries, test the connections and troubleshoot it when it wasn’t quite working.  You’ll want to do this right and get it professionally installed so you don’t have to worry about it.

Husqvarna Automower yard robot calgary robomower
The Automower, base station to the left, and a sample patch of grass that was allowed to grow while the mower trimmed the rest of the yard.

The Automower works by operating within its guidewire; essentially acting as a “Roomba vacuum” does, but for your grass.  You can use the wires to “fence” off any areas the robot should steer clear of, whether that’s your vegetable garden, flowers or a child’s play area.

 

The Husqvarna Automower comes with a base station which it uses as a home base and recharging station. The positioning of the station is important; it shouldn’t get too much sunlight, and you’ll want it to be out of the way.  I’m told many homeowners in Europe will actually build tiny “mini garages” for their Automower, and if I were to own one, I think I’d do that too to help it fit into or hide away from the yard.

 

How loud is the Husqvarna Automower? Mine ran at night, without a complaint


Surprisingly, this mower is absolutely silent.  Compared to the ear-splitting grind of a traditional electric or gas mower, you will not even hear this one at work in your yard.  In fact, it was so quiet, I had mine scheduled to run at night, and I never heard it, nor did my neighbours.

What if someone tried to steal my Husqvarna Automower?

The Husqvarna Automower has anti-theft protection built in.  For starters, if someone were to lift it up to carry it off, an alarm will sound.  Second, you need a pin code to operate it.  Third, if a thief were to try to operate it without its base station or pin code, it would cease functioning.  img_3350And fourth even if an intrepid thief were to, say, try to buy a new base station and get the pin code reset, this can only be done via an authorized Husqvarna dealer.  The dealers’ records show who owns each device and their lost/stolen status. Attempting to reconfigure one without the proper documentation would result in all kinds of red flags, and perhaps a call to the police.

What happens in the rain?

Rain doesn’t bother the robot. If the grass is too wet for cutting, the Automover can sense this, and it’ll return to base until things are drier.

Will the Husqvarna Automower hurt pets or children?

The mower won’t hurt anyone, human or animal, that comes into contact with it.  For starters, the mulching blades are small, so they likely wouldn’t even make contact with flesh.  If they did, they have a foldaway spring which prevents them from cutting when they hit a hard object.

Another safety feature; if the mower bumps anything like a foot or a sleeping dog, it will simply back up and choose a new direction.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Husqvarna Automower installation calgary
Getting great service from Alberta Forest & Garden, Husqvarna dealers, in Calgary.

I had a couple of issues with my temporary installation; primarily the wire loop becoming disconnected from the mower base station.  The staff at Alberta Forest & Garden were quick to come out and take a look and make repairs any time I had a problem.  In this case the problem was that the guidewire was only temporarily staked to the surface of my grass.

In an ideal and permanent installation, the wire is buried underground so there’s no worries about kids, pets or trippy adults pulling it loose.

A couple times early in the testing, I heard the alarm go off in the middle of the night. it turns out the robot was falling into a bit of a pit in the lawn, and its built in security system was worried someone was trying to make off with it.  The solution was to make a barrier around the deep pit so they mower wouldn’t get caught.

In another case the automower was missing chunks of grass.  That was easily remedied by adjusting the wire boundary, and also adjusting how far the mover is allowed to stray past the wire.  It was increased by a few inches and that helped it get a good cut from edge to edge.

Overall review of the Husqvarna Automower

I really, really liked this device.  It worked well, and kept my lawn short all summer long, without a lick of work from me.

The totally silent operation meant the mower could work while I slept, and wake up every day to a beautifully manicured lawn; all we had to do was handle the trimming.  If that’s more work than you want to do, it’s possible to make some small adjustments to your yard’s landscaping so no trimming is required either; I’m talking about adding edging, hedges, gravel or mulch.

Any problems I had with the mower were handled quickly and cheerily, and I feel confident any ongoing issues would be dealt with quickly.

I can’t find a single thing to complain about with the Husqvarna automower.  It’s definitely something I’d get for my home or property… and may still one day!

Where can I get one of these Husqvarna Automowers? What do they cost?

My demo unit robomower was supplied for 3 months by Alberta Forest and Garden in Calgary. They are licensed Husqvarna dealers.  I highly recommend them for their great attention to detail and friendly service.

Pricing starts at $2100 CDN (315 model: cuts 1/3 acre) and goes up to $4000 (450X model: cuts 1.25 acre), depending on the model you choose.husqvarna automower review

 

No time for yard work? Get a robot lawnmower

This has to be one of the coolest and most useful gadgets I’ve ever had the pleasure of testing.  Husqvarna’s robotic lawnmower, called the Automower.

The small rectangular device is abut the size of a standard lawn mower, but has no handle. One other key difference? it operates almost completely silently!  The only sound you can hear while it’s running is a soft whir and the clipping of the grass.The Automower benefits from a professional installation; mine was done by local Husqvarna dealers Alberta Forest & Garden. A ‘track’ of rubber-coated copper wire is laid in the grass and spiked in tightly. Then the mower operates within its boundaries.


The robot mower will be mulching my lawn for the next few weeks – watch for a full review here on the blog, and it’ll get demonstrated on an upcoming CTV Tech Talk. I’ll also talk about how you keep it from being stolen, and how you can get it to cut your front lawn AND your back yard, even if the grass doesn’t connect.

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Do you have questions about the mower; how it works, whether it might be right for you? Let me know in comments below!

Robot housekeeper does the vacuuming while you’re away

img_0114There’s a new addition to my house! He’s small, only weighs a few pounds, but already feels like a member of the family.

Meet my Roomba! iRobot’s robot vacuum cleaner. While robot vacuums have been around for quite some time, I’ve never had the opportunity to test one until now. Frankly, I’ve had my doubts about how well they can keep the place clean, so I was looking forward to putting Roomba through his paces.

What’s in the box: iRobot Roomba 880


The Roomba vacuum is a large circular gadget, significantly larger than a dinner plate, and about three or 4 inches tall. While he’s weighty, he’s not heavy and he comes with a built-in handle so you can pick him up and carry him around. I received the ‘880’ model for this review, so these comments will all relate to this specific model.img_0118

Also in the box are a couple of devices that look like small towers. One of these is the “home base” station which will charge your Roomba. The other devices are what’s called virtual walls. More on those later. There’s also an extra filter and a remote control.

 

Set up


The Roomba is very easy to set up out of the box. You just pull the tabs off the battery, set the day and time (very easy; not at all like trying to program a VCR) and then set up the base station. The base station needs to be in a wide open area the vacuum can access easily, one that is not near stairs and is free of clutter like shoes or other junk. It should also be near a wall outlet for power.
Once the Roomba has charged himself up he’ll be ready to go.

 

Using the iRobot Roomba


The Roomba can be used at any moment simply by pushing the ‘clean’ button in the center of the vacuum. The robot will back away from its base station and begin cleaning in a somewhat hard to follow but linear pattern. The robot learns its way around furniture and is smart enough to back away from stairs. The Roomba will clean an entire floor of your house and then return to his base station when the battery begins to run low.

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While I was using the device, I had no problem getting the entire main floor of my house (about 1000 sq ft) swept on a single charge. The robot would go from room to room and find his way in through doorways and around beds or furniture easily. While the robot is short enough to go under beds and furniture, my beds sit directly on the floor, so I was unable to tell if the robot would automatically head under the bed to sweep up. However he did certainly sweep underneath all the other furniture in my house, something I’m glad I don’t have to do!

Roomba also has a ‘spot clean’ mode, so if you spilled something on the floor or have a particularly dirty or dusty area, you can bring the Roomba over and select ‘spot clean’, and the device will begin a series of swirl patterns and sweep up everything in that single area. I decided to test this feature by pouring some flour on the floor and then bringing the Roomba over to attack it.

Spilling stuff to test Roomba’s Spot Cleaning

Getting a spot cleaning done is a simple as pressing the ‘spot’ button on the top of the robot. Roomba immediately went to work, and started in a series of small circles that got larger and larger. In no time, all of the flour was cleaned up. As you’ll see in the video I made, I have some grout missing from spots on our tile floor, and while the Roomba did not have the suction power to get the flour out of those deeper crevices, he was able to get every last bit of flour from the tile surface. I was pretty impressed. While more suction would be nice, I also recognize that not everybody has giant grout gouges in their floor. So for most applications I think the spot cleaning would work great.

But could Roomba handle heavier spills like oatmeal, breadcrumbs, or even peanuts?
It was back to the test kitchen to find out. With this test, again the Roomba performed better than I expected. After initially rolling over top of the peanuts on the first circle, Roomba started scooping them up easily. The oatmeal and the breadcrumbs were no problem. In the end, my poorly grouted kitchen being what it is, the only remnants after one single rumba cycle were a lone peanut, and some stray oatmeal flakes deep in the grout holes. I ran a second spot clean cycle, and any additional bits were picked up. I did still need the broom and the dustpan for those deep grout cracks, but if you think about it, if you’re sweeping the floor as your regular method of cleaning, you still have to work to get down in any cracks or crevices. To see how Roomba performed, watch the video version below.

 

Schedule your robot housekeeper!!


One of my favorite features about this Roomba is the scheduling feature. It’s very easy to set the date and time on the Roomba with the buttons on the device. With that information programmed in, it’s another few quick clicks to set a cleaning schedule that works for you. I set the Roomba to clean every other day while we are at work, so we come home to a spotless floor.
Roomba knows how to untangle itself from cords
I will say I have come home a couple of times to find Roomba stopped at the edge of the stairs, or stuck on a rug or a stray sock. That’s because if the robot gets in a spot he can’t get out of, he’ll just shut down and wait for you to rescue him, squeaking out a few ‘help me’ beeps. He also has a built-in ability to untangle himself from any cords he may get caught on. I’ve watched Roomba do this; the robot merely backs away and reverses course over the cables and was always successful at disentangling itself.

 No more pet hair tumbleweeds

I feel like the amount of pet hair in our home was drastically reduced to the point of being invisible. While normally my husband and I would have to use a Swiffer or the vacuum to pick up dog hair tumbleweeds a few times a week, with the Roomba, that was just no longer necessary. I think the Roomba would be ideal for multi pet households where a lot of pet hair is a concern.


Will it upset your pet? Probably not.  Have you seen the video of a car riding the Roomba? Neither my dog nor my neighbor’s dog were bothered whatsoever by the robot. The Roomba even bumped into my dog one day while she was laying on the rug Roomba wanted to clean, and while she was a bit miffed, it was just a gentle push and then the Roomba moved off in a different direction. So it’s good to know that even if you have a lazy dog who won’t get up, the Roomba will just clean around him and not hurt him.

 

Cornering with the iRobot Roomba


img_0923-1Roomba will get around and under things where the pet hair tends to collect, like underneath chairs or in the hallways. And the robot even did a good job of getting into tighter spaces and corners, however his round shape means he can’t get into them perfectly. With that said, the tiny brushes that extend from the vacuum do increase the robot’s reach into corner areas. Overall I was not unhappy with how the robot was able to clean, and the spaces he was able to get into.

 

Clean shag rugs too!?


One of the biggest surprises for me in testing out the Roomba was the fact that it was able to clean my two shag rugs. Though they are rather thick, Roomba was able to roll up onto them and vacuum superficial dust and small objects. Roomba was not able to give these rugs what I’d call a thorough clean, (as you’d expect, it’s a shag rug! A regular vacuum can barely handle it!)  but I was surprised that he wasn’t scared to try it. I’ve also read that some robot vacuums will not clean black or dark colored rugs because they see that color as an empty space or a drop off. However once again, the black shag rug in my living room was no match for Roomba’s smarts.
Keeping Roomba in line: he can go only where you want him

One of the neat features of the iRobot Roomba is the ability to set up virtual walls and light houses. A virtual wall will allow you to block the vacuum from entering certain rooms or areas. In my bungalow, I found this unnecessary, since if I did not want the robot in certain rooms, I would just shut the door. However this would work very well for wide open concept homes where you only perhaps want the robot to focus on the kitchen, and stay out of the children’s play area. You simply set the virtual wall to create a border where the robot shall not pass.

With a lighthouse, the opposite happens; lighthouse placement will allow Roomba to specifically target certain rooms he might not otherwise get into. For example if you’re cleaning your main family room where the Roomba has his docking station, but also want to make sure he gets the playroom, or the bedroom, placing a virtual lighthouse at their doorway will ensure that he visits those two rooms after his initial room clean. Of course this is also subject to battery life.
Cleaning the Canisterimg_0939

Keeping the Roomba’s canister clean and emptying it regularly is important to helping your robot function well. iRobot recommends you empty the dustbin after each use. While I tried to do this, sometimes I forgot. Fortunately the Roomba will let you know if the dustbin is too full to continue. I was able to get about three days worth of sweeps on my entire main floor before it would fill up.
I did feel like cleaning out the canister was rather awkward, since it has a very narrow opening at one end of the canister. It’s hard to get pet hair out of it, unless you reach in with your fingers and try and pinch it out. Heavier dust or objects like the peanuts I used in my tests will fall out easily, but lighter debris needs to be shaken free. If I were to design a new room by canister, it would have a wider mouth for ease of cleaning all the junk out.  As it it, you’re probably going to get your hands dirty.

Overall: Verdict on the iRobot Roomba

I’m pretty happy with the Roomba. Having never tried a robot vacuum before I ws impressed with the cleaning ability and found it extraordinarily helpful with pet hair in our home.
I was surprised at how easy the robot was to program and schedule; even people who aren’t tech savvy could get this set up easily and quickly. In short, I’d definitely buy  a Roomba for my home.
Do you have experiences with Roomba, or other robot vacuums? I’d love to hear about them in comments below.