Autonomous cars and military ‘bots find their way by using lasers to make virtual maps of terrain. Neato Robotics’s XV-11 applies the same tactic to your messy living room. The robotic vacuum uses smaller, cheaper lasers to scope out a space and plot the quickest path to cover it. So instead of wandering randomly and bouncing off objects, like other robot maids, it can devote its battery to actual vacuuming.
Before it starts its housework, the XV-11 spins its invisible-laser range finder, taking 4,000 readings a second and measuring the distance to all objects within 13 feet. It repeats this process from several spots until it knows the location of every obstacle in the room, be they walls, doorways or table legs. Using this mental map as a guide, the robot calculates an orderly route. It covers the perimeter and then vacuums back and forth in rows, skirting obstructions and constantly updating its map to avoid Fido’s quick-moving legs.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.