Should new houses and apartments be designed with an alcove for a robot vacuum cleaner?

Everyone I know who tried the first robot vacuum cleaners eventually gave up. They held so little debris that it was just as much work to empty them as it would have been to vacuum the room with an $80 Hoover. Walls got banged up from the robot’s clumsy attempts to map rooms and avoid furniture. Delicacy prevents me from going into details, but a family dog with a stomach bug and a robot vacuum cleaner turned out to be a toxic combination in many households. (Do a web search and you will find many stories!)

Friends in Maskachusetts have been been on a renewed buying spree lately driven by, I think, the following beliefs:

  • the original electric home vacuum cleaners were not marvelous labor-saving devices and their descendants (up to 114 Bidies for a decent Hoover?) are, in fact, extremely tedious to push around in a McMansion
  • a battery-powered machine is always more effective at cleaning than a 114-Bidie plug-in Hoover with a 1440-watt motor
  • the latest and greatest robots have better sensors and software
  • their children have weak immune systems from 1.5 years of school closure and activity lockdowns and shutdowns and therefore the house must be cleaner than ever before

Although the market segment was pioneered by iRobot, an MIT spinoff, these guys have come to the consensus (“a Scientific consensus”) that the Chinese-engineered Roborock S7 MaxV Ultra is the best machine and has the best software.

They’ve sent me pictures of this dock and robot in their $2-3 million COVID-safe suburban bunkers. They take up a lot of floor space and look completely out of place. Here’s what the naked machine looks like:

(Across the top you have dirty water (post-mopping), clean water (pre-mopping), and a wastebasket for the self-emptying dust bin within the robot. The company claims this allows 3-4 days of usage before the robot’s human servant must be summoned to change out the water or empty the bin. They base this on a small footprint of 1,070 square feet.)

You wouldn’t leave a regular vacuum cleaner out where family members, guests, etc. could see it, right? The vacuum cleaner is ugly and used intermittently so it lives in a closet. These robots aren’t smart enough to open doors, so my friends are putting them where they are often visible to people trying to enjoy the house. It’s New England and the robots can’t climb stairs so a house with three living levels will have three of these cluttering the space.

I’m wondering if houses and apartments should now be designed so that a robot vacuum with dock will stay mostly out of sight. Maybe it lives in an alcove under the stairs. Perhaps there is a curtain that it can drive under (it is mostly the dock that needs to be hidden). The companies that make these devices should get together and agree on a standard for the shape and size of the alcove. Obviously the alcove needs electricity. Maybe for rich people there should also be a fresh water supply plumbed in and a drain and perhaps robots could be made that tapped into these so that the only thing that the human servant of the robot ever had to do was empty the dust bin.

I know there’s a fine line between brilliant and stupid. Which side of the line is this idea on?

10 thoughts on “Should new houses and apartments be designed with an alcove for a robot vacuum cleaner?

  1. You absolutely must watch on Netflix’s “Love, Death & Robots”, Season 2 Episode 1, “Automated Customer Service”.

    My old San Francisco house had a special alcove for the then newfangled (wired) telephone, complete with a swing-out drawer to hold the phone book. Most people under the age of 30 probably have no idea what it was meant for.

  2. I did a fairly serious scan of the Roborock website and couldn’t find the basic exterior dimensions of the unit! Knowing them, an enterprising carpenter could probably build a clever hiding place in a wall, even in an existing home.

    More broadly, yes! I think they’re going to become increasingly commonplace and homebuyers are going to want concealment. You’re right, you wouldn’t leave the old Electrolux in the corner of the living room – you lugged it back to the utility closet.

    • After letting this thought rattle around in the back of my mind for a few days, I realized: “Yes, but the people who buy these expensive Robot Vacuums for their homes might WANT to leave them out and visible as a vanity/discussion piece. Maybe the company should offer them in different colors, rainbow flag schemes, etc.”

  3. The human servant wouldn’t even need to empty the dust bin if the alcove had a connection to central house vacuum.

  4. Don’t know why someone who just had his student loans forgiven would bother cleaning a house instead of getting a new house. Cleaning forgiveness. Why do Chinese invent so much?

  5. American architects just starting to learn groundbreaking idea that most people have flatscreen TVs and don’t want them to hang over the fireplace.

    Good luck with the robot spaces, maybe in twenty years.

    • The mass housing for proles doesn’t need ro be convenient or well designed.

      Try custom home in luxury segment… you’ll even get things like mechanism hiding ffat TV behind a movable painting, so that the big black rectangular hole won’t be spoiling your nice room’s ambience.

  6. > Should new houses and apartments be designed with an alcove for a robot vacuum cleaner?

    Absolutely! All rental housing, public or private *must* be refitted to have an alcove for the robot vacuum. Otherwise, folks who are “entitled” for free housing will find it unacceptable when they buy their robot vacuum that they can afford but cannot afford rent.

  7. I once saw a tour of an older house on TV where there was a slit in the wall at floor level for sweeping in dust and dirt, in lieu of using a dustpan. My memory’s a little vague, but there must have been a basement involved.

    I’m assuming this didn’t catch on.

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