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A Short History of Robot Vacuums and Docks

Walter Shillington writes about products he knows firsthand. His articles focus on healthcare, electronics, watches, and household items.

A modern Roborock robotic vacuum with a sophisticated docking system

A modern Roborock robotic vacuum with a sophisticated docking system

The Early Days

My first robotic vacuum was an elderly yellow beast manufactured by Koolvac. This shameless iRobot clone lurched around my house, banging into furniture and noisily sucking debris into its bowels until it either became stuck or ran out of juice. The Koolvac would, in either case, immediately stop and flash an impressive array of distress lights.

This iRobot clone from Koolvac was one of the first robotic vacuums available

This iRobot clone from Koolvac was one of the first robotic vacuums available

The First Docks

As years passed, robotic vacuums greatly improved. Lithium batteries replaced lead-acid, additional sensors were installed, maneuverability was increased, and the robots were matched with charging stations.

One of the first dock-equipped robots I tested was the Kobot RV353. This little monster had a hard time locating the infrared signal emitted by its dock and, like all robotic vacuums of its era, required plenty of free space both in front and to the sides of the dock. And when it finally reached its destination, the robot would frantically and repeatedly ram the dock until it made proper contact. I had to plaster the bottom of its dock with double-sided tape to ensure this system would work properly.

This very effective robotic vacuum from Vanigo was fitted with a dock, mop, and a primitive gyro-based navigational system

This very effective robotic vacuum from Vanigo was fitted with a dock, mop, and a primitive gyro-based navigational system

The Evolution of the Robotic Vacuum

For many years, the design of docks remained pretty much the same. However, robotic vacuums continued to benefit from a myriad of advancements. Primitive mops were attached, navigational systems were developed, and increasingly sophisticated sensors allowed the robots to monitor their environment closely. This resulted in greater accuracy and a slower, more graceful approach when docking.

Because of these changes, I can be confident that none of the robotic vacuums I test will push its dock out of position, even if it is perched atop a carpet. And my sister, who hides her charging station under a chair shoved against the wall, benefits from her robotic vacuum’s ability to slip between the chair’s legs and slide snugly alongside its dock.

A standard dock manufactured by Yeedi

A standard dock manufactured by Yeedi

A standard dock manufactured by Dreame Bot

A standard dock manufactured by Dreame Bot

The Auto-Empty Dock

Over the last three years, the number of robotic vacuums paired with a self-emptying dock has steadily increased. These docks are well-received among vacuum owners who see value in removing the requirement to manually empty their robot’s dustbin every day. Auto-empty docks are especially beneficial for those with allergies.

My Roborock auto-empty dock can hold up to 8 weeks of dust and debris before its vacuum bag must be replaced. This system consists of a pair of towers. One contains the vacuum bag, and the other is fitted with an exceptionally effective filtration system.

The Mop Capable Robot

Lately, several manufacturers have introduced vastly improved mopping systems to their robotic vacuums. Since I am presently conducting a long-term test of Roborock’s S7 MaxV Ultra, I thought I would explain how their mopping system functions.

This company developed a flat mop that exerts pressure against the floor while vibrating up to 3,000 times per minute. This vibration helps to disintegrate tough stains while minimizing water usage. I prefer this design because the flat mop automatically rises whenever the robot travels over rugs and carpets to vacuum.

Docks That Clean Mops and Empty Dustbins

While auto-empty docks are convenient, they cannot wash the robot’s mop and fill its water tank. Roborock’s solution was to design the Empty Wash Fill Dock.

After every 20 minutes of cleaning, the S7 MaxV backs into the dock, triggering an automatic cleaning sequence. While water is constantly sprayed against the mop, a cleaning module with a soft rubber bristle brush sweeps across its surface at a rotation rate of 600 times per minute. The dirt and grime drawn from the mop are collected at the base of the cleaning station.

A rubber scraper is installed beneath the cleaning module. As it travels back and forth, the scraper pushes the dirty fluid into a removable filter compartment which absorbs the dirt and grime. At this point, the liquids are separated and drawn into the dock’s dirty water tank.

This cleaning procedure is repeated when the robot has finished work and returns to its dock. Once the mop is cleaned, the robot briefly abandons the dock, turns around, and returns to be recharged as its dustbin is automatically emptied.

View of the Roborock Empty Wash Fill Dock.  Note the two containers used for clean and dirty water

View of the Roborock Empty Wash Fill Dock. Note the two containers used for clean and dirty water

Selecting a Docking System

The dock you choose will largely be determined by your budget combined with the expected use of your vacuum and desired convenience.

A standard dock works fine if you don’t mind emptying your robot’s dustbin every day. I, however, really appreciate the convenience of an auto-empty docking system.

I am currently experimenting with Roborock’s new Empty Wash Fill Dock. So far, the results are impressive. Once a week, I spend about three minutes dumping the dirty water and refilling the clean water container. That’s not bad considering that the robot slips out every day to vacuum and mop. If you plan to mop your floors daily, a dock that can clean your vacuum’s mop and empty its dustbin is well worth considering.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Walter Shillington

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