Of all the household gadgets available today, the robot vacuum cleaner is the one that would have most impressed my 10-year-old self.
Sure, they tend to perform a boring task with middling efficiency, but there’s something about a robot that can switch itself on, pootle about the place and slot itself back into a charging dock that hints at a world of flying cars and mechanical butlers that never materialised.
The Neato D7 is at the luxury end of the market, an £800 box of sensors and gears that offers cutting-edge software to match the already impressive cleaning abilities of its predecessor. While the D5 – already a £600 contraption – requires strips of magnetic tape to cordon-off no-go areas (a rather graceless and unattractive solution), this one allows you to program them via the companion app.
For the first couple of cleans, however, you will despair about dropping £800 on something so temperamental. Initial set-up is easy, but to work properly Neato needs to build a map of your flat in its little digital brain. While doing this, it will spin around ineffectually, making a racket and missing the little bits of litter you drop, breadcrumb-like, before it.
Still, just like raising a newborn child, novelty factor goes a long way in the initial stages. There’s something mesmerising about watching it gracelessly crash about like a reject from Robot Wars, and the new – entirely useless – feature allowing you to take control and drive it around suggests its makers understand its function as a toy for grown-ups.
Its real utility, however, is its ability to clean when you’re not there. I programmed it to clean at 1pm when nobody would be in the house. Except I didn’t: I actually scheduled it to clean at 1am, when my girlfriend’s mother was sleeping in the room where it lives. So in the middle of the night it powered up its little motor and started driving around. I got a panicked knock on my door, only to discover Neato repeatedly smashing itself against the bookcase, bleeping furiously.
Program it correctly, however, and it gets the job done remarkably well. You already know if you’re the kind of person who’ll spend the price of 1,600 pints of milk, or 80 hours of professional cleaning, on a robot vacuum cleaner. If that’s you – and honestly, that’s me – the Neato D7 is as good as anything out there, albeit not quite a flying car.