You'd think that the first robot vacuum from a company like Dyson, who reinvented the vacuum, fan, and hair dryer, would rival R2-D2 when it came to functionality. But with the 360 Eye, Dyson instead focused on creating a robovac that did one thing very well: cleaning. It delivers as promised, but is that worth $US1,000?
AU Editor's Note: There's no set release day for the Dyson 360 Eye in Australia, but we do know that it's on the not too distant future. We're looking forward to that. Stay tuned -- Cam
The no-frills approach to its robot vacuum is surprising when you consider that Dyson has actually been developing its robovac for close to 18 years now. Before the Eye 360, Dyson created the DC06 -- which, until recently, has only existed in a handful of leaked photos outside the company.
It cleaned well, but the DC06's size, weight, less-than-amazing battery life, and price tag didn't quite meet the company's expectations. As a result, the DC06 was scrapped, the five working models the company created went into exile, and Dyson's robotics division then spent the next 12 years developing the 360 Eye instead.
As far as form factor goes, small and tall is the best way to describe the 360 Eye. Compared to the Samsung POWERbot VR9000, which could easily play a droid in Star Wars, the 360 Eye looks like a tiny can of cookies. Of all the consumer-level robot vacuums currently on the market, the 360 Eye has the smallest footprint, by a longshot, but it also comes at the cost of it being a little on the tall side.
Life is all about trade-offs, and Dyson's engineers decided that being able to squeeze into the small gaps in-between your furniture was more important than being able to squeeze under your couch. As a result, the 360 Eye didn't even come close to fitting under my IKEA couch, but neither could Samsung's POWERbot VR9000, nor a Roomba. I even have trouble squeezing a mop under there, so I feel Dyson's engineers made the right decision by focusing on keeping the 360 Eye's footprint as small as possible.
Yep vs. nope.
Instead it allowed the robovac to squeeze into tight areas that I assumed would always have to be cleaned by hand. Will the 360 Eye be able to clean every hard to reach area in your home? No. You'll still need to have a manual vacuum on hand to ensure every last inch of your floors get cleaned. But it should at least be able to autonomously clean the most visible areas, so your friends don't think you're a complete slob.
The 360 Eye's design continues Dyson's unintentional approach of creating appliances that look like science fiction props, with its silvery faux-metal plastic housing and bulging 0.33-litre dust bin on the front. But other than a large button on top that lights up with various patterns to signal what the 360 Eye is currently doing or what it needs (charging, connecting to your Wi-fi network, cleaning, etc.), the only real distinguishing feature atop the robovac is an ominous-looking dome that gives the bot its name.
"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do."
That dome is a 360-degree camera (looking eerily like HAL 9000's unblinking eye) that feeds a wraparound image of a room to the 360 Eye's processor. You might assume the panoramic camera on top photographs a room's ceiling so the robot can plot its course. But that's not how it works.
The 360 Eye takes a simpler approach to cleaning. Once the robot starts vacuuming it sticks to a five-meter square section of a room that it cleans by spiraling out from the center. Then it moves onto a neighbouring square, and so forth, until a room is clean. This makes for more efficient use of its 45-minute run-time.
The Dyson 360 Eye's camera tracks all the corners in a room to keep track of its location.
The 360 Eye's camera can really only see as high as a room's walls, which it photographs up to 30 times per second. Those images are processed by a special algorithm to detect and track distinct corners, like you'd find on tables, windows, or even paintings on a wall, which the robot uses to keep tabs on where it is, where it's been, and what's left to clean.
A simple map of a room is built up as the robovac navigates a space, but is wiped from the bot's memory after a cleaning cycle is complete. This makes it better suited for a home where things are constantly getting moved, creating new obstacles for the robovac to navigate every time it starts cleaning.
The 360 Eye adds extra collision security in the form of infra-red sensors. For the most part, the combination of these two technologies worked seamlessly, and on many occasions I was surprised at how deftly the tiny robovac was able to tightly navigate around table legs and other hard-to-spot obstacles. Collisions did occur from time to time, but thanks to the bot's small form factor, there was barely an impact.
The 360 Eye met its match when cleaning underneath an IKEA chair. It ended up beaching itself on a wooden crossbeam that it didn't see coming. Before I got up to rescue it, the robot just sat there, happily sucking away without moving for about five minutes.
IKEA makes some of the world's finest Dyson 360 Eye traps.
It also had hang ups in dark spaces. On several occasions, while cleaning underneath a piece of furniture it was barely able to squeeze under, the Dyson 360 Eye needed rescuing. Presumably because its 360-degree camera was essentially blinded. The camera is a key part of its ability to navigate a room, and as a result, the robovac won't even turn on if there's not enough light for its camera to work. If you want to schedule it to clean the living room at three in the morning while you're asleep, you'll need to leave some lights on.
Yet these problems could potentially be resolved in future software updates, which the Dyson 360 Eye receives via Wi-Fi. The inclusion of Wi-Fi also allows the 360 Eye to be activated, monitored, and scheduled from the Dyson Link app on iOS or Android devices.
Pairing the app to the 360 Eye was a little tricky, but only because the app looked like it had failed when in reality it had successfully connected to the robovac, and functionality is limited. The most complex thing you can do through the app is schedule the robot to clean throughout the week. It does show you the map of a room it created after a cleaning is complete, so you can see what areas it might have missed. But it feels like a half-feature because you can't then click on the map and direct the robot back to a certain area.
On the underside of the 360 Eye you'll find a pair of metal contacts the robot vacuum uses for charging, its spinning brush bar, and a pair of bright blue rubber tank treads.
If treads are good enough for the army's tanks, they're good enough for a robot vacuum.
They might be more complicated than a simple pair of wheels (more parts means more parts that can break), but the treads also provide better grip since there's more surface area making contact with your floors, and the large teeth improve the 360 Eye's ability to clamber over obstacles, and transition from hard floors to carpeting. They also help the robovac maintain a straighter course -- taking the tiny bot smoothly to its tiny charging base, which easily unfolds and sidles up against a wall.
The robovac can always find its way back home to thanks to checkerboard markings on the base.
Because it's first and foremost a Dyson vacuum, running off the company's tiny but mighty V2 digital motor, the 360 Eye sucks up dirt and debris as efficiently as any of the company's manual vacuums.
A full-width brush bar lets the 360 Eye clean close to your walls.
The spinning disks of whiskers used by robots like the Roomba to sweep debris from the edges of the bot inwards don't exist on the 360 Eye. Instead it features the same edge-to-edge brushbar that the company's manual vacs use so that it cleans as close to the edge of a wall as possible. It still leaves about a half-inch gap, but its ability to suck in dirt and debris along walls easily outperformed other robovacs I've tested.
The Eye 360 sucks, but in a good way, which means you'll be frequently emptying its 0.33-litre bin.
After using the Dyson 360 Eye for some time, I can understand why the company decided to focus on its ability to clean. That's where its competitors have made compromises, which makes no sense for a product that's supposed to save you work and make your life easier. But there are a few features I would like to see added to help justify the 360 Eye's $US1,000 price tag.
The ability to manually steer the robot from the app to hit missed spots, or move it to another room, would be helpful. For comparison, Samsung's $1599 PowerBOT VR9000 can follow a red crosshair projected on floors to help it navigate to a specific area. That's a genuinely useful feature -- not a gimmick. There's also no way to limit where the Eye 360 is cleaning except for setting up physical obstacles in doorways to keep it contained, and notifications, or an alarm, for when the robot got stuck, would be useful too.
Should You Buy It?
Of all the robot vacuums I've tested, Dyson's 360 Eye is the first that will genuinely clean your floors as well as a manual vacuum cleaner can. That being said, it won't completely eliminate vacuuming from your weekly chore list. It will save you a lot of time, though, which is what Dyson is really selling here for $US1,000. The company's first robot vacuum feels a little light on features given the steep price tag, but through software updates and improvements to its app, eventually you could, one day, never need to touch a vacuum ever again.
- The first robot vacuum that's a vacuum first. Does a very good job at cleaning your floors thanks to solid battery life and a full-width brushbar.
- The 360 Eye is a little on the tall side, but it also means it has a small footprint for squeezing into hard to clean areas.
- The use of treads instead of wheels lets the 360 Eye easily climb over obstacles or transition between floor surfaces.
- Automatic software updates over Wi-fi add functionality and improve performance so you don't have to reach for a USB cable.
- At $US1,000, you'll have to really hate pushing a vacuum around to buy one.
- If you want to schedule a cleaning in the middle of the night, you'll need to leave some lights on.
- Lacking a few useful features like the ability to remotely steer it from the app, or set up cleaning zones.