Thursday, 10 January 2013

Window Cleaning Robot Has It's Limits

The Winbot robotic window cleaner clings to the glass by suction, wets it and wipes it dry.
Ecovacs Winbot sucks glass to clean your panes: This window-washing robot showing at CES 2013 has easy stick-on and clean operation. But don't chuck your Windex yet. In Las Vegas robots that wash your windows are another dream of domestic automation, but most early models involve a cumbersome two-part unit that goes on both sides of a pane. At  CES 2013, China-based Ecovacs is showing off a new version of its Winbot window washer, one that doesn't require a magnetic support on the other side of the glass. Just stick the Winbot 7 series on the window, press start, and it starts moving up and down. That's a lot easier than handling two machines.

It can work wirelessly on a battery charge, but when used above ground level it's best to attach a safety cable, which doubles as a power supply, to the unit and the window itself. Winbot was exhibited at IFA 2012, and it's billed as the only bot of its kind that cleans glass of any thickness, even Thermopanes. But it won't work on frosted glass or panes with writing or signage on them.

Winbot has a vacuum pump that seals it to the glass, while letting it move around automatically. It travels in a zig-zag pattern before doing the edges. It cleans by wiping with a solution-moistened cleaning pad, then squeegee-ing remaining dirt, and then drying with a rear pad. That sounds good enough to toss out your Windex, but unless you have floor-to-ceiling views, repositioning Winbot to clean smaller windows will still be a pain in the pane.

Following earlier versions, the latest Winbot was launched in China last year and is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in the spring of this year. A $299 version will clean windows that have frames, in other words well-defined borders, while a $349 version will be able to clean glass walls or windows that have no frames. Now all they need are legs, and they'll be cleaning skyscrapers.

Winbot won’t complain about cleaning windows: So when a robot-like device comes along that can perform a cleaning task on its own so that we don’t have to, it naturally gets people talking. Ecovacs Robotics’ Winbot 7 certainly had people talking (and gawking) at CES 2013. This little robot cleans windows and can get to hard-to-reach areas better than humans can. Winbot 7 sticks to any window with two powerful vacuum suctions, and moves around the window using a set of rotating suction cups that power the robot along. A cleaning cloth wipes away dust, grime, and moisture as the Winbot zig-zags across the glass.

When first set on the window, Winbot crawls to the very bottom, and then to the very top, to measure the window size. It then movies across the window in a zig-zag pattern, making sure to cover every inch of surface. When finished, Winbot crawls back to the spot where it started. The time needed per window of course will vary with the window size, but the robot moves pretty fast overall. While the Winbot is great for a quick dust or clean, it doesn’t provide much elbow grease—tougher water spots or stains might need extra cleaning. Another drawback to Winbot is its movement limitations. It isn’t cordless, so it’s stuck with cleaning windows within reach of its 10-foot power cord. You’ll have to manually pick Winbot up and move it to another spot if the window is bigger.

Still, having a personal window cleaning assistant is pretty helpful. And you can see where this might go in the future. Home vacuuming robots have overcome similar limitations, dramatically reducing the human help they need to get their work done. Someday soon we may see a machine like the Winbot that is wireless, jumps from window to window, and can be set to automatically do the windows every seven days. Winbot 7 is set to go on sale in the spring, and will be priced between $299 and $399.

Super Suction Lets This Window Cleaning Bot Stick To Glass: Designed to complement the Roomba, the Scuba, and the myriad of other cleaning robots that keep your floors spic and span, the new Winbot 7 uses its suction powers to stick to and clean your windows instead. So when it's available come April for somewhere around $400 to $500, you may never have to buy Windex or paper towels again. The Winbot 7 is actually an upgrade to an older model that required a magnetic backing on the other side of the window to hold it in place. Instead, the Winbot 7 uses a pair of suction rings powered by a strong motor to cling to the side of a smooth window, while a set of soft silicone treads drive it around. Once a strong seal is made, indicated by a color-changing LED, the Winbot 7 will quickly explore the entire window, calculating its size so it can plan out an effective cleaning routine. After that it zig-zags its away across a pane using a pad soaked in cleaning solution to wipe off dirt and grime. Power is provided by a tethered cable that also serves as a last resort lifeline should the bot lose power and suction, but a three hour backup battery is included that will keep the suction motor running until it can be rescued.

Ecovacs claims that the Winbot 7 is the only window-cleaning robot that can clean windows of any thickness. There are two models—the W710 is for framed windows and the W730 can be used on both framed and frameless. Unlike window bots of the past, the Winbot 7 doesn't require a magnetic support on the other side of the glass. Instead, it has a vacuum pump that seals it to the glass then cleans with a moist pad on one side, a built-in squeegee and a drying pad on the other side. When first placed on the window, the Winbot 7 is programmed to "measure' the window and determine the best path. It does so by crawling from the bottom of the window to the top and then cleaning in a zig-zag motion. For a normal-sized window, it can complete its task in 10 minutes or less. That's plenty of time for you to grab a cup of coffee. The Winbot 7 reportedly will be available in the spring, just in time for spring cleaning, at a cost of $299 to $399.

Most visitors miss the surprises that can be found in a plain corner called the “International Gateway,” where manufacturers from Asia display unglamorous components and offbeat items. Man Hyun Ryu (right) demonstrated two Windoros for a visitor to the booth of South Korea’s Ilshim Global. Much as iRobot’s Roomba will vacuum your floor, Ilshim’s Windoro will clean your window as it moves across the glass. Each unit has two pieces held together by magnets—one for the inside of a window and one for the outside. The devices, which are about $450, are available in Japan, Korea, and Europe. They clean one side of a window at a time; Ilshim is developing a version that does both sides.

Another Window Cleaning Robot - Windoro - here & here.

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