Saturday September 16, 2017
05:56 PM GMT+8

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NEW YORK, Sept 16 — You learn a lot of things — few of them pleasant — when selling a house. When I put my brownstone on the market a few years ago, I hired a team of professional window cleaners to come and give my windows a good going over. Burly guys with the precision of figure skaters ran soapy squeegees and T-bars encased in fluffy sleeves over the glass, doing more to improve the look of my home than all the dusting, mopping, and HGTV-inspired staging I could muster.

The lesson was twofold: Clean windows make a huge difference, and keeping them that way is harder than it looks, especially if you’re doing it yourself. That’s why cleaning the windows of my apartment has earned a perpetual place at the top of my to-do list, above even the more necessary tasks of repainting and regrouting.

And so I was thrilled when I saw the Winbot 950 — essentially, a Roomba broken free of gravity. While the field of floor cleaners is cluttered, far fewer companies have gone vertical: There’s the Hobot and the skyscraper-ready Gekko Facade Robot, by Swiss company Serbot AG, and that’s about it. How would this device, made by Chinese robotics company Ecovacs Robotics, keep my windows sparkling without squeegee acrobatics on my part?

The Winbot 950 works by affixing itself to a pane of glass, using an inbuilt fan for suction, like a vacuum, and moving itself around with a pair of rubber tank treads. — Bloomberg picThe Winbot 950 works by affixing itself to a pane of glass, using an inbuilt fan for suction, like a vacuum, and moving itself around with a pair of rubber tank treads. — Bloomberg picThe Winbot 950 works by affixing itself to a pane of glass, using an inbuilt fan for suction, like a vacuum, and moving itself around with a pair of rubber tank treads. Surrounding the fan and treads is a circular squeegee, and then a removable, washable, microfiber cloth that you spritz with a spray window cleaner. There are edge sensors in the corner and a handle on top with a start/pause button.

Since the Winbot 950 is rather large — about 11 inches (27cm) square and just shy of five pounds (2.2kg) — it must be plugged in to maintain sufficient suction to keep it attached. It has enough battery power to keep itself on the window for 15 minutes, should power go out amid cleaning. The 14-foot-long power cord determines the theoretical limit to the window size a Winbot can clean: about 175 square feet.

My double-hung windows, however, were considerably smaller, with each pane of glass about 3.5 feet square. I plugged in the Winbot and held it up to the glass and pressed the start button. It took just under four minutes to clean the 12-and-a-quarter square feet I’d assigned it. At one point, the border of a rolled up shade created a barrier it couldn’t see or navigate away from. It beeped balefully until I used the included remote control to manually guide it back down to a place at which I could restart the cleaning.

Cleaning the outsides of my third-story windows necessitated use of the included tether, which fixes to the Winbot at one end and to glass on the other, using a large suction cup. For a moment, I imagined the Winbot losing grip and bungee jumping off my building, maybe swinging through my downstairs neighbour’s window like a wrecking ball. That, fortunately, never happened. It just sucked on, like a household ramora, and puttered about for an additional four minutes.

Was it worth the US$400 (RM1,676) price tag? Perhaps if I had giant, flat picture windows, it would be. As things are, I’m better off making do with my Windex and squeegee. Or just leave it to the professionals. — Bloomberg

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