We were all promised, growing up, that one day robots would do our housework. Well, the robots are here. So how do they stack up? In this week's episode of Upgrade Your Life, Yahoo! News' Becky Worley matches her housecleaning and cooking skills with those of modern home robots to see who does a better job!
Mopping the bathroom floor -- iRobot Scooba 230 ($299)
The original iRobot Scooba 380 cost almost $500, and was so big it couldn't fit behind your toilet, which is the most inconvenient spot to scrub because you have to get down on your hands and knees to get to it.
Enter the Scooba 230, the smaller and cheaper model that actually does the job better. That's because it's only about half a foot wide and it fits behind the toilet unlike its larger counterpart. But does it do the job better than a human being? More importantly, is it more convenient to use the new Scooba than to mop the bathroom by hand?
When Becky tried it, she found that it took about 15 minutes to do the job the old fashioned way. The Scooba only needed about 3 minutes, including 2 minutes to fill its chamber with water and 1 minute to empty it when the job was done. Your mileage may vary depending on the size of your bathroom; the Scooba can handle up to 150 square feet per fill-up. It's not a perfect solution because it does leave a spot here or there, but The iRobot people told us their research shows people who have the Scooba mop about 3 times a week, compared to people who mop by hand only about once a week. But for Becky, the mom of small kids, the Scooba is a clear winner.
Stirring cooking pots -- Robostir ($10.99)
The Robostir is less of a robot and more of an infomercial product, with a price tag to match. In essence, it's a battery-powered whisk that stands upright in your pot. Just turn it on and it whirs its way to stir soups and broths for up to 4 hours. It's waterproof and dishwasher-safe, just like any good kitchen utensil, and has no trouble with boiling temperatures.
But can you trust your gravy with it? Becky started two saucepans of broth boiling. She put Robostir in one and hand stirred the other. When she added the water and flour thickener, the pot she stirred by hand was smooth and consistent, while the Robostir gravy was lumpy. The lesson? Robots can't do everything, just yet, and infomercial products don't always perform as advertised.
Vacuuming deep-pile carpets -- Neato ($399)
You've probably heard of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner ($349), which is great on hardwood floors. But for cleaning deep-pile carpets there's a new player in the robotic vacuum market: Neato.
To test the Neato, Becky spread dirt, Cheerios and dog hair all over her carpeted floor, then used a traditional vacuum cleaner. It took her about 10 minutes. But with Neato, all she had to do was lay down a barrier strip and press start. It did a good job. Although, where she had the highest concentration of dirt it left a little residue. One other distinction between this device and the Roomba, is that Neato travels in a grid pattern leaving orderly marks on the carpet where Roomba travels in a swirling motion.
Can it do the job faster than a human can? The better question is, when it only takes you a minute to get the Neato going, why not vacuum your carpet every night? So, for Becky it's another winner.
Cleaning out gutters -- Looj ($169)
If there's one job that's perfect for robots, it's cleaning roof gutters. Not only is it a frustrating chore, it can also be nerve wracking to balance on that ladder for so long.
So, is the Looj up to the job? First, you have to find out if it'll fit in your gutter. You'll have to download, print and cut out the measurement template from iRobot's site. If it fits in your gutter, the company says it's good to go. The Looj's treads propel it along the gutter, while its spinning flaps and brushes are supposed to get rid of the gunk and debris.
But what's worse than having to clean out your gutters by hand? Having to un-stick a robot that got jammed while cleaning them! That kept happening while Becky was testing the Looj on both dry and wet sections of the gutter. The treads couldn't gain purchase in the gutter and kept getting stuck. She noted it did a good job when it worked, which wasn't often. Overall, it performed better in a dry gutter, but still left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, gutter cleaning is something Becky will have to keep doing the old school way.