How I came to love my $1200 robot vacuum cleaner

The Roborock S6 MaxV doesn’t eliminate the need for the occasional manual vacuum, but it sure is good at getting out of a tangle.

S6 MaxV is a next-generation robot that uses artificial intelligence to avoid getting tangled up in cables. 

Oh, I’m so pleased for my little Max, as I like to call her. She’s been straining and straining in the bathroom for two or three minutes, grunting and groaning louder than the neighbours might be happy with, but she’s finally done it! She’s finally completed that rite of passage that so many rug rats like her struggle with.

I couldn’t be more proud of her even if she were my own flesh and blood. Or if she were flesh and blood at all, really.

Maybe it’s fair to say all this COVID-19 loneliness has me loving my robots in a manner that is a bit unhealthy. But there is something about this robot, who I call Max but whose full name is the Roborock S6 MaxV, that makes me proud of her all the same.

She (and I call her “she” due to her female robot voice) is a robot vacuum cleaner, similar in many ways to the Ecovacs Ozmo T8 AIVI we reviewed a few months ago, only lacking Ozmo’s one big flaw (and replacing it with a couple of small ones).

Like Ozmo, the S6 MaxV is a next-generation robot that uses artificial intelligence to avoid getting tangled up in cables the way most older models did, rendering themselves useless.

Roborock S6 MaxV

The stereo camera on the Roborock S6 MaxV helps it avoid entanglements with other appliances. 

Like Ozmo, she has a video camera that scans ahead, looking for obstacles such as shoes and power strips, and avoiding them enough to make her useful, but not so much that she stops putting on an entertaining show of pathos every now and then, grunting and groaning as she tried to free herself from some cable the camera didn’t detect.

Case in point, Max’s bathroom escapade, where she got tangled up in the wire running to a rechargeable toothbrush. Oh, she struggled and struggled with that wire for minutes and minutes, long after most other robots we’ve reviewed over the years would have given up.

And you know what? She freed herself, without human intervention, and went on to finish that storey of the Digital Life Labs without another hitch. I for one, was very impressed. I can’t think of a single household (or laboratory) that doesn’t have a mess of wires somewhere, and yet I can think of only two robots, Max and Ozmo, that are able to cope with them well enough to make them worth owning.

Where Max and Ozmo differ from each other is in how they approach cleaning houses (or laboratories) with multiple levels.

For reasons that defy understanding, Ozmo will work properly only on levels that have the recharging dock installed, meaning that, if you want to take advantage of its mapping capabilities, you need to schlep not only the robot from floor to floor (oh for a robot vac that can climb stairs!), you have to schlep the recharging dock, too.

Roborock S6 MaxV

The app keeps track of which rooms have been vacuumed and mopped, and lets you mark off “no-go zones” too. 

As a design decision, it could not be more stupid, which is why I am very proud of my little Max for having all the same, incredibly useful mapping features as Ozmo, without that single piece of stupidity that undermines them.

In my Roborock app, there are now four maps stored, representing the four floors of the labs. On each map, little icons indicate where the obstacle avoidance system has detected obstacles (and photographed them for my reference), so I can think about moving them out of the way or prevent Max from going near them next time.

It’s the sort of result that will let you live with yourself twice or three times longer before you are forced to vacuum the house manually.

On the map that includes the bathroom, for instance, I’ve now added a “no-go zone” to stop her going near that cable that just cost her five minutes to escape.

The next time I carry Max to that floor, she’ll have a quick look around with her radar-like Lidar scanner, figure out where she is and which map to use, and then which “no-go” or “no-mop” zones (she also has a mop, which I’ll get into presently) to avoid, so she doesn’t make the same mistake twice.

I’ve now added enough no-go zones and “invisible walls” to send her on a complete cleaning of the labs without any intervention, other than carrying her from floor to floor.

Max is the first robot vacuum cleaner to ever achieve that feat. It’s impressive. I was worried that, if I put her down in some strange place on an already-saved map, she’d get lost, think she was on a new map and ignore all the no-go zones I’ve added, but so far she’s figured it all out without a hitch.

Now, Max doesn’t actually vacuum as well as Ozmo – she’s more inclined to forget tiny patches in complex terrain, and for some reason I don’t understand (given she actually has quite a powerful vacuum motor) the areas she does cover don’t seem quite as clean as when Ozmo does them – but she’s not far behind, and in any event her cleaning is way better than nothing at all.

It’s the sort of result that will let you live with yourself for twice or three times longer before you are forced to vacuum the house manually.

The same can’t be said of Max’s mopping skills, however. The mop is one of the old-fashioned, passive types: basically a wet rag dragged across your entire floor. It’s so close to useless I mostly haven’t bothered with it.

Like the vacuuming, the mopping on Ozmo is a bit better, too. It has a powered mop that is worth using, although it does have some flaws (such as a higher propensity to get stuck on the edges of carpets) so the difference with Max is not all great, mop wise.

Really, the only big difference between the two is that Ozmo’s creators made a stupid, stupid design choice that makes it far less attractive for owners of multilevel dwellings, and Max’s designers did not.

And, of course, Max has a passive mop attachment that always reminds me of having a toddler dragging its wet nappy over your whole floor.

I really should do something about all this anthropomorphising of gadgets I’m reviewing. It can’t be healthy.

Roborock S6 MaxV

Likes
Best multifloor mapping system we’ve tested.

Dislikes Prone to ignoring small patches where the landscape is complex.

Price $1199

John Davidson

John DavidsonColumnistJohn Davidson is an award-winning columnist, reviewer, and senior writer based in Sydney and in the Digital Life Laboratories, from where he writes about personal technology. Connect with John on Twitter. Email John at jdavidson@afr.com

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