You could say that when the engineering wizards at Dyson, London-based maker of beautiful and expensive sophisticated domestic machines of the bag-less and blade-less variety, go back to the drawing board, they really go back to the drawing board.

Back in 2001, Dyson was on the cusp of entering the vacuum cleaning robot market with the DC06 model. However, the Dyson team ultimately decided to yank the bulky, infrared sensor-laden robo-vac right before launch because they weren't 110 percent happy with its design and performance. They feared that counsumers would find the machine was too unwiedly, too expensive. And so Dyson's engineers went back to work.

Now, Dyson has decided it is ready to once again ready to rock the (now much more crowded) robo-vac market with the official unveiling of the 360 Eye. The product of 16 years and $47 million in research and development, this lean, mean, 360-degree panorama camera-equipped dirt-sucking machine is like nothing we've seen before.

"Most robotic vacuum cleaners don't see their environment, have little suction, and don't clean properly. They are gimmicks," explained the company's founder, Sir James Dyson, at the official unveiling of the 360 Eye at an event in Tokyo. "We've been developing a unique 360 degree vision system that lets our robot see where it is, where it has been, and where it is yet to clean." He adds: "Vision, combined with our high speed digital motor and cyclone technology, is the key to achieving a high performing robot vacuum — a genuine labor saving device."

It's a given that the Dyson 360 Eye, which will be released in Japan in spring 2015 followed by other markets later that year, will pack quite a punch; Dyson promises it will blow other robo-vacs away in the suction department. The company's patented dirt- and dust-separating Root Cyclone technology and signature energy-efficient 200-watt V2 digital motor are both integral aspects of the machine's design.

But what really sets the 360 Eye apart is the aforementioned vision and mapping system — the machine's all-seeing navigational eye — that enables it do its dirty work in a quick and efficient manner without bumpers and with little to none human intervention.

Wilson Rothman of The Wall Street Journal provides an easy-to-digest rundown on how it functions:

When the 360 Eye begins its cleaning cycle, it takes a picture of its base station, then moves to what it thinks is the center of the room. As it moves, it shoots 30 frames per second from the top-mounted 360-degree camera, and analyzes every image, composing a real-time map of the room. It detects obstacles with the camera as well as infrared sensors located on the bottom of the machine. It moves in a squared-off spiral, taking care to just barely overlap its previous path. Once it gets through a room, it can go on to the next, and repeat the process, provided it still has battery life left.

Other standout features of the Dyson 360 Eye — previously referred to by its codename: Project N223 — include tank-style treads in lieu of wheels enabling it to better navigate small obstacles like door ledges and transition from different surfaces; an extra-wide brush bar with carbon-fiber filaments for tackling hard floors and stiff nylon bristles for carpets; a lightweight body of just a little over 5 pounds; and a run time of 20 to 30 minutes on a fully charged lithium-ion battery. This is a markedly shorter battery life than popular robo-vacs on the market such as the Roomba from iRobot and the Neato Robotics' BotVac that can seemingly buzz around rooms for hours on end. But then again, those machines don't boast the same pure suction power promised by the Dyson 360 Eye.

No word yet on the machine's cat-terrifying capabilities or of its price tag when it eventually hits North America although we're sure that both will be formidable.

And the 360 Eye's plus-sized brain isn't just dedicated to seeing. The WiFi-connected machine will be launched with a corresponding smartphone app for iOS and Android in which users can program the vacuum to kick into dust bunny-slaying action on an established schedule whether they're home or away. When done, the robot will dutifully return to its base station where it will patiently await its next mission.

Rosie Jetson, eat your heart out.

Via [WSJ]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.