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News and information about the Neato XV-11 Robotic Vacuum. All discussion and troubleshooting questions go here.
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Why is laser superior to camera technology?

November 25th, 2018, 7:47 pm

I am having a real hard time deciding between the i7+ and the D7 - it seems to come down to:
> i7+ has the auto-collection bin
> D7 has can operate in the dark and bump into stuff less
(over simplification)

I am stuck on the technology - LASER vs CAMERA and I cannot seem to find a straight answer as to why a company like iRobot would invest so heavily in a technology like camera when LASER does seem to be a clear superior solution - am I missing something?

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

November 25th, 2018, 8:00 pm

The Lidar is mechanical and subject to some failures like the small dc motor that spins the Lidar. Also less of an issue but some failures do occur to the turret bearing since it is shielded but not sealed.

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

November 25th, 2018, 8:58 pm

Unfair question but - you recommend the Roomba camera technology over the Neato laser then?

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

November 26th, 2018, 1:21 am

Some people think the laser is superior to the more modern camera technology, not practical when the inexpensive, short range Neato laser was developed over a dozen years ago. But besides being obsolete, the laser was found from the beginning to have some basic limitations, for which cameras have not been noted, at least yet. The laser fails against reflective objects, as reported in old threads here, including both chrome plated furniture legs and just polished stone baseboards, not to mention actual mirrors and transparent windows or sliding doors.

More obvious is the mechanical parts of the laser, compared to solid state cameras. Some users report long term usage but there are many reports of wear on the laser spin motors and fittings, belts etc. It's like old vacuum tube TV's vs modern transistors. It would be possible to make the mechanics more durable, but only with more expensive parts, more substantial motors etc., but that would make the robots non-competitive. Vorwerk was noted making one improvement, optical connection of data with the spinning drum, originally only slip ring mechanical contacts (now standard on Neato products -- and with Neato a subsidiary of Vorwerk).

Some people remark frequently that camera robots such as Samsung's, have lousy navigation, though I have owned both and see no great difference. It is something odd at this late date that Neato has not advanced to camera guidance like other brands, some just bypassing the laser and jumping from random navigation like the oldest robots to camera guidance. Perhaps some business factors explain it; Roomba has always dominated the market and continues to do so, though I have not seen Samsung data. LG is in the market, too, as well as luxury Dyson -- especially touting its camera guidance. Neato, however has advanced software with "persistent mapping" and "virtual boundaries", "no-go lines" etc. Advances in these products is fairly slow, with gradual improvements one year to the next, dribbling out little things to attract buyers to the latest models.

Originally Neato competed on price, quite a bargain compared to Roomba, with the first guided navigation with its laser as well -- lots more for the money in my opinion. Only recently has Roomba finally advanced from random to guided navigation, using cameras as what would seem to be the most advanced method available at the time. How these companies see the market and their business models is something of a mystery.

Roomba's dominance shows up in this holiday season by showing TV commercials -- very expensive advertising, showing how much money they can make, maybe compared to the others. I would not take that as implying any technical superiority -- marketing makes a big difference. There is also little awareness of technical details of these products in people I encounter, who often are familiar only with Roomba. After all they were the first.

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

November 26th, 2018, 4:19 pm

I’ve spent a long time with both Roomba camera and laser navigation robots. Overall I think they’re both great navigation technologies. The biggest drawbacks of each in my mind are:

(1) Laser navigation in Neato’s approach has difficulty with skirts/sheets. It can sometimes blow a bed skirt enough to get under the bed, but afterwards it misinterprets all of the sides of the bed skirt as walls and thinks it’s trapped. It can also have more difficulty dealing with certain reflective materials, and the map it builds is kind of based off a thin horizontal slice of the world at the height of the LIDAR turret. This can result in really erratic navigation if uneven grounds or ramps cause the LIDAR to tilt.

(2) camera navigation doesn’t work well in complete darkness. It requires a small amount of light to look for landmarks.

Overall though I would focus less on the navigation techniques and more on the robots as a whole. I prefer Roomba 9xx/I-series over Neato primarily because of other aspects of the unit as a whole. I like the rubber rollers, I find it gets stuck less often, and it is also more able to run over cords without permanently damaging them compared to Neato’s brush bar.

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

November 27th, 2018, 9:41 am

In my opinion, camera facing to ceiling cant ever be as accurate as laser.

For laser limitations, thats where robots other sensors come in to play, just like in camera.

Its just how the engineers combine things. What lidar cant see, bumpers/ultrasonics (Vorwerk) take care of that. What camera cant see, bumpers/infrared take care of that (Samsung).

In my opinion, Lidar being mechanically subject to failure is not a thing to worry about if the manufacturer just use good motors/belts/bearings. Other mechanical parts see much more wear and tear than lidar.

In my experiences, lidar is superior technic when compared to cameras. There is a reason why example factories and houses are scanned with lasers and scans transferred to cad programs.

Cameras are cheap, thats why they are used. Then they use lots and lots of money try to make software work with it.

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

December 14th, 2018, 2:15 pm

I, too, like the laser better than the camera navigation. I never had any issues with any of the 3 neatos that I had related to the lidar system. But then again I did not have any reflective chrome, mirrors, or sliding glass doors that it had to deal with. The only thing that took my Neato's out was the blank LCD panel issue. Eventually all 3 of mine (two 11's and one Botvac) developed the blank LCD screen issue. They were still usuable but a year ago I moved into a different house with pretty thick med pile carpet that the Neato's had issues with being able to move around. I purchased a Samsung Powerbot 9350 (with it's larger dia. wheels) and that seems to have taken care of the problem. The only real gripe I have with it (and other camera based units) is that I use to do all of my scheduled cleaning at night where most rooms are dark. The 9350 just can't handle that with it being camera based so now I have to do it during the day or make sure lights are on in the rooms which is a total pain to me. If only the 9350 had both. Maybe someday a manufacturer will get it right....

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

December 14th, 2018, 3:49 pm

I think Neato Robotics addressed the poor quality XV series LCD issue with the newer LCD in the Botvac makeover. I don't see any reports of LCD failures on those, several years old now.
I also got the Powerbot -- the larger version with larger wheels -- for operating on carpet, where a slippery surface problem emerged besides the well known deep pile problem, with the Neato robots (sometimes improved by adding a slider support on the bottom, other thread -- see Mods & Repairs list top of forum). Still none of them can pass the "fluffy premium Wamsutta bath rug test", though the defunct Third Degree claimed his would. Perhaps the track drive on the Dyson would do so as well, but it is designed for small spaces and has its own design issues. The Powerbot also has higher traction wheel treads than does Neato (the top 9350 even has flexible wheel rims adding to traction when climbing thresholds with a higher spec than other models).
I thought I saw some note about a robot with LED's on the top to illuminate the ceiling, forgot where. It would not be too hard to add something like that to the Powerbot with a DIY modification, except maybe for the high 21.5v battery power supply, might have to squeeze in a small buck voltage converter board for 2v LED's. I believe those cameras see only in IR, so use that kind of LED. Don't know if just a dozen small LED's in series would work to divide the voltage.
I don't need dark running myself so am not planning to investigate it.

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

December 15th, 2018, 12:28 am

I don't see how pointing a camera at the ceiling is supposed to help with navigating around obstacles. How does it see the sofa or chair legs?

I've seen reviews on Youtube on both methods, and they both seem to do about equally well. Roomba has a more thorough brush system, but Neato can't be beat on price. $148 for a D3 on sale, which now has no-go lines.

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

December 15th, 2018, 7:25 am

I have a Mint and it relies on the ceiling for coverage and the front bumper for obstacles. It works as well as my Neato.

Re: Why is laser superior to camera technology?

December 15th, 2018, 8:32 pm

mfortuna wrote:I have a Mint and it relies on the ceiling for coverage and the front bumper for obstacles. It works as well as my Neato.

If I recall, the Mint used Northstar navigation system. This involves a second box projecting an image on the ceiling which the Mint uses for orientation. This is not the same as looking at the ceiling without a pre-existing "target pattern" to work from.
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