If I asked my child version of the 80s about the vision I would have about 2020, it would be something with flying cars, laser weapons like in comics and cartoons, as well as robots taking care of the house. Lasers are starting to appear very timidly, cars are too far from flying, but robots have been vacuuming the house for some time.
It’s still not quite a job like Rose’s in The Jetsons, but at least they already suck up dust and wipe the floor. It may seem like a simpler task, but more robust (and expensive) models do this with enormous efficiency. This scenario of domestic care with some intelligence in robots has been a reality in international markets since the beginning of the 2000s, but only in the last few years have some versions started to arrive with more commitment in Brazil.
They range from some very simple and that walk at random, aspiring anything they find along the way and without any brain to understand what they do, going to models that map the house, separate rooms, share floors and can receive commands to clean just a corner of the room. These more modern ones also detect if the dirt is more impregnated and reinforce the work in the place.
How do vacuum cleaners aspire?
The idea is simple, but quite ingenious: practically any small, round robot vacuum cleaner uses a motor to create the vacuum that sucks up the dirt at the bottom. To help in this work there is a kind of brush in the “mouth”. As the body is round, corners of the house could be left without cleaning and that is why there are one or two brushes on the edges. They are responsible for bringing dirt to the center of the product.
Some more expensive and modern models have a straight corner, with the rest still curved. The straight part has a paddle that plays the role of the external brush. This is the case of the POWERbot VR7200 from Samsung and the Roomba S9 + from iRobot.
The more expensive versions use cameras aimed at the ceiling or infrared sensors and thus create a virtual house plan. You can name the rooms and even select an area for cleaning, such as next to the coffee table. All control of these models is done by application, but voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant can control some of the actions. In the simplest, a remote control has this job, going to just one button in the most limited of all.
The vast majority use a base that is where they start from to start cleaning and return at the end of it – or in the middle of the process, to recharge the battery. Closing the possibilities, some models of iRobot put a pantry on that base so that the dirt leaves the robot compartment and goes, alone, to a “dump”. Then the robot goes back to the cleaning if it was not finished before.
There are other variables, but in a nutshell, this is how vacuum robots work. The best way to choose is to first understand how deep your pocket is, then the need for your home, since some are good with tall rugs (as is the case with Roomba), while others are better at mapping the house (point for the Xiaomi Roborock).
What we have in Brazil
In Brazil, five brands stand out: Samsung, Xiaomi, iRobot, Midea and Multilaser. The last of the quintet puts on the market simpler models and seeks its place in the sun in the sale by quantity, since the prices are the lowest of all competitors, reaching R $ 400. This is the case of HO041 that is hitting the house and furniture while sucking dirt, almost no smart parts. Orion costs twice the price, but it has a recharging base which is where it returns when cleaning is finished. It is close to the same value as the models sold by Midea.
Both Samsung, Xiaomi and iRobot fight on the same level, with robot values starting from just over R $ 2 thousand, to get close to R $ 10 thousand. All three also offer robots capable of vacuuming dust and wiping, with some of them doing just one or the other.
What made the arrival of these robots delay
The product that practically opens the category of robot vacuum cleaners in the world is iRobot’s Roomba, launched in 2002. Several brands have appeared over the years, but in Brazil this was just a type of gadget for those who traveled or imported. One of the great villains when it came to officially bringing vacuum cleaners to Brazil was the price.
“The problem with a newly invented technology is its price. Due to the restricted manufacture, it tends to have a value that often makes the project of its development unfeasible until the demand really meets the expectations of the offer ”, says Flávia Bordin, manager of Multilaser appliances products, to the Tecnoblog.
The tax burden and the very low demand for the product are important points for the late birth of this type of niche within the Brazilian market. “The geolocation features and obstacle sensors have undergone long development processes and are now much more improved than in the first versions of the robots”, says Karina Camargo, product manager for vacuum cleaners at Samsung Brazil.
The moment of the vacuum robot category
Looking ahead to any changes due to the pandemic, the vacuum cleaner market was already growing in Brazil. “We estimate that the revenue of robots in the vacuum cleaner market represented less than 3% in 2018 and in 2019 reached 5%”, says André Kliemann, product marketing manager Midea.
“The year 2020 raised the profile of cleaning robots, which, in short, became a trend in Brazil. There is an increasing acceptance in the market, expanding the space to create new products and resources ”, comments Karina Camargo, from Samsung.
Flávia Bordin, of Multilaser, believes that “the category is seen today as a strong global trend and with great sales potential in the Brazilian market”.
Now focusing on the retail side, the store at the end of the chain, growth in 2020 was atypical. To Tecnoblog, an Amazon spokesman said, “This year, we have actually seen an increase in demand for vacuum cleaners, especially in the second and third quarters. It is one of the most sought after products currently in the home products category ”.
Did the pandemic help sales?
Yes, a lot. A study by consultancy Gfk revealed that sales of this type of product rose 372% between January and September 2020, compared to the same period last year. Looking only in April this year, the time of greatest social isolation in Brazilian cities, the month registered an increase of approximately 800% in relation to April 2019.
Even with such a positive scenario, robots represent only 3.5% of the sales of all vacuum cleaners in the first nine months of 2020 in number of units – no matter how much, as they are much more expensive, sales reflect 12% of the segment . It seems little, but in the same period Samsung brought two new vacuum cleaners with different prices and proposals. While one wipes and sucks, the other is a dedicated model just for wiping.
“Everyone is at home and everyone needs to clean up. So people really ran and the robot category really stood out a lot. The person is there working at home and does not need to stop to do (cleaning) ”, comments André Kliemann, from Midea.
“Although we noticed the growth of this category in moments before the pandemic, it is certain that it was a catalyst for the sale of this product”, says Flávia Bordin.
The connected home, along with the internet of things, also contributes to this scenario. In more modern models, the presence of more ways to control the product adds even more comfort, jumping to a more luxurious area and not only in cleaning efficiency.
Karina Camargo comments that “when they spent more time at home, with the need to divide time between work, home care and entertainment, people went in search of products that would make these busy routines more practical”.
“With new features, the user can program the operation of the robot even without being at home, with the SmartThings application developed by Samsung. And this connectivity is not just between robots and a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. The more connected products a home has, the more the power and versatility of these products can be exploited by the user ”, adds Karina.
Vacuuming robots do not compete with day laborers
One of the doubts that can remain in the air is: the extent to which the work of a smart vacuum cleaner can impact what a cleaning professional already does. The response of the three companies interviewed by Tecnoblog he was unanimous in emphasizing that the public of this type of product may indeed be the same that already contracts some domestic service.
André Kliemann believes that smart vacuum cleaners can help these people’s work by relieving one of the chores, such as ensuring the cleanliness of the day-to-day stay for the robot and the employee focus their work elsewhere in the house. Flávia Bordin and André Kliemann also point out the younger audience with a pet at home as possible interested in this type of gadget.
Karina Camargo is betting on a larger audience for Samsung solutions. Going from the most attuned to new technologies, passing by families who want more comfort and reaching people who need better managed time.
I am not the person who loves cleaning the most and I am sure that most of you think something similar. The need for a robot for this is a luxury, there is no denying it. It’s like a dishwasher: you can do everything by hand, but the machine will give you comfort, and comfort comes at a cost.
The vacuum robots, however good and more technological they may be, are just a tool to clean the floor in a light cleaning. It will not remove dirt that has stuck, nor is it able to solve a room that has not been cleaned in a long time. On the other hand, these products can help pet owners a lot, especially for those who shed hair – like cats and my sausage, Boris.
Another interesting point is that they do the work on the floor, so all the furniture still needs manual work. They can be from your hands, or from some domestic servant.
If you can have such a luxury, to remove the routine cleaning from your daily life in the same way that someone chooses to order a lunch box instead of going to the stove to prepare the warm, it is worth it. They are hours of work that you can use for other things, like studying, working or even sleeping.
Will you replace the daily cleaner for those who hire one? No, they are different jobs. The weight at work of these people is similar to what happens when the cleaning person can use a waxing machine instead of wiping with his hand or foot. Relieves, helps, but does not solve alone.