Former Google Employees Try Their Hand In The Robot Vac Market
Two former Google employees have designed The Matic, a new robot vacuum with a different approach to cleaning, designed to move around the home just like a human would and processing things visually rather than spatially.
Using five RGB cameras to navigate instead of sensors, bumpers, and lidar technology, these upgrades make it less prone to regular robot vacuum pitfalls, including high-pile rugs, cables, and tight spaces, in theory.
It also operates locally, using no cloud component, and mapping is done on the device, without the need for an internet connection, meaning data will never leave the home.
This device has been in development for six years, which is when its founders Mehul Nariyawala and Navneet Dalal left Google Nest, in order to use their experience to develop facial recognition and gesture detection at Flutter.
“We’re both dads, and I have a Golden Retriever, and we were just not impressed with the abilities of most robot vacuums to keep our house clean,” Mehul said.
The main difference between The Matic and regular robot vacuums, claimed by Mehul, is that The Matic creates a 3D powered, street-view-like map of the home, and combined with the on-device computer vision, it can maneuver the same way a self-driving car would guided by Google Maps.
It doesn’t run into chair legs or shoes like other robot vacuum, and instead glides around clutter left on the floor, while switching between vacuuming and mopping.
Mehul continued, “Hardware has never been the bottleneck of robots; it’s the brains, the ability to map and navigate, go from point A to point B precisely, 10 out of 10 times that hasn’t been done before. That’s what we’ve solved.”
It also doesn’t look like other circular robot vacuums, but has a square, squat white body, large wheels, and vacuum head that can extend out. It can also “mimic human perception and self-learning through cameras and Neural Networks that power image recognition, decision making, and 3D mapping.”
There’s also a higher-level of AI powered obstacle avoidance, which allows it to navigate any object in the home instantly. Even though iRobot and Ecovacs also have this, it’s claimed Matic can identify more items, and categorise them into dirt, non-dirt, and unknown. It also tends to avoid the last two.
It’s also a wet and dry vacuum, and the computer vision allows it to identify different floor types and autonomously switch from vacuuming to mopping. It avoids mopping carpets by vacuuming forward, then flipping the head down to mop backwards.
It also has gesture commands, with a speaker and microphone onboard, and can respond to commands including, “Matic, clean up there.” It can also autonomously go out and find dirty areas for cleaning. Mehul claims every couple hours, the device will roam around and seek dirt.
“Eventually, it will learn your preferences and know things like after dinner, it should clean the kitchen.”
When the bin onboard is full, the device will park itself by the bin and send an alert noting it’s ready for emptying. The bin is a small bag that can be pulled out and thrown away, with a 1 litre capacity, which can hold up to 1 month worth of dust, and 1 week worth of dust and liquid.
The device is claimed to also be really quiet, not getting louder than 55dB. The key? Suction power isn’t as important as agitation and the capability of the brush roll, according to Mehul.
Two front wheels allow the device to go over high pile rugs, and room transitions without getting stuck, and the mopping pad is a roller mop inside that squeegees itself clean.
There is no large docking station that empties the bin or refills the water tank. That has to be done by the user. It carries around a 600ml water tank, and 1 litre bin.
Disposal seems simple, with liquid and dirt going into the same bag when “diaper crystals” absorb the liquid, so the bag can be thrown out. There’s also an optional membership which provides a steady supply of bags, brushes, and mop rolls, along with guaranteeing coverage for accidental damage.
The AI powered navigation adapts to the cleaning situation and changes the cleaning mode to match. It uses simultaneous localization and mapping technology, but is claimed to have 10x better implementation due to the semantic understanding powered by software algorithms and data processing.
Matic originally launched as a subscription model earlier this year, but is now being sold outright. It can be preordered from maticrobots.com for $1,495 USD. This is a discounted price, with the original price $1,795 USD. It includes a yearlong Matic membership Australian pricing has yet to be revealed, and delivery is expected around March 2024.