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Main article: Assistant

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Compound’s Mike Dempsey on virtual influencers and AI characters

19:27 | 18 January

In films, TV shows and books — and even in video games where characters are designed to respond to user behavior — we don’t perceive characters as beings with whom we can establish two-way relationships. But that’s poised to change, at least in some use cases.

Interactive characters — fictional, virtual personas capable of personalized interactions — are defining new territory in entertainment. In my guide to the concept of “virtual beings,” I outlined two categories of these characters:

  • virtual influencers: fictional characters with real-world social media accounts who build and engage with a mass following of fans.
  • virtual companions: AIs oriented toward one-to-one relationships, much like the tech depicted in the films “Her” and “Ex Machina.” They are personalized enough to engage us in entertaining discussions and respond to our behavior (in the physical world or within games) like a human would.

Part 1 of 3: the investor perspective

In a series of three interviews, I’m exploring the startup opportunities in both of these spaces in greater depth. First, Michael Dempsey, a partner at VC firm Compound who has blogged extensively about digital characters, avatars and animation, offers his perspective as an investor hunting for startup opportunities within these spaces.

 


0

Amazon-backed Rivian will integrate Alexa into its electric pickup and SUV

17:00 | 6 January

Rivian will integrate Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa into the R1T pickup and R1S SUV, the company’s first electric vehicles that are set to debut at the end of the year.

Rivian said Monday it plans to also extend the Alexa integration to 100,000 electric delivery trucks that Amazon has ordered from the automaker. The electric vans are expected to start delivering packages to customers in 2021.

The integration into the R1T and R1S will give owners access to standard Alexa features such as playing music, placing calls and navigations as well as the ability to control the climate, open and closing the trunk and other vehicle features using their voice.

Rivian said it plans to give Alexa other capabilities designed for its vehicles. For instance, owners will be able to remotely tap into the camera embedded in Rivian pickup truck from Amazon screen-based services like Echo Show and Fire TV to check on whatever gear is stashed there.  The integration will also allow access to certain Alexa features when the vehicle is offline, a decision meant to match up with how these vehicles might be used.

Rivian’s vision is to enable exploration without compromises and provide our owners the best digital experience, no matter where their adventure takes them,” said Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe. “We want this to be the most comprehensive, most seamless Alexa integration in the market.”

The Rivian announcement made ahead of CES 2020 is the latest to illustrate Amazon’s continued push into the automotive world. Lamborghini also announced Monday plans to bring Alexa to its Huracán EVO sports car.

Amazon has been moving into the car for a few years now through the integration of Alexa and car-focused delivery services, as well as its direct investment  Rivian. The e-commerce company also launched its Amazon Key service to let customers give delivery drivers access to their house with the help of a compatible keypad on their door and a smart security camera. But in 2018, that service expanded to the car with its Key by Amazon In-Car delivery service.

GM and Volvo were the first participants in the Key by Amazon In-Car delivery service. Ford joined the in-car delivery service in April 2019.

 


0

Instreamatic signs deals to allow people to talk to adverts on streaming services like an Alexa

18:39 | 19 December

Most in tech would agree that following the launch of Alexa and Google Home devices the ‘Voice Era’ is here. Voice assistant usage is at 3.3 billion right now; by 2020 half of all searches are expected to be done via voice. And with younger generations growing up on voice (55% of teens use voice search daily now), there’s no turning back.

As we’ve reported, the voice-based ad market will grow to $19 billion in the U.S. by 2022, growing the market share from the $17 billion audio ad market and the $57 billion programmatic ad market.

That means that voice shopping is also set to explode, with the volume of voice-based spending growing twenty-fold over the next few years due to voice-based virtual assistant penetration, as well as the rapid consumer adoption of home-based smart speakers, the expansion of smart homes and the growing integration of virtual assistants into cars.

That, combined with the popularity of digital media – streaming music, podcasts, etc – has created greenfield opportunities for better brand engagement through audio. But brands have struggled to catch up, and there has not been many ways to capitalise on this.

So a team of people who co-founded and worked at Zvuk, a leading music streaming service in Eastern Europe, quickly understood why there is not a single profitable music streaming company in the world: subscription rates are low and advertisers are not excited about audio ads, due to the measurement challenges and intrusive ad experience.

So, they decided to create SF-based company Instreamatic, a startup which allows people to talk at adverts they see and get an AI-driven voice response, just as you might talk to an Alexa device. 

Thus, the AI powering Instreamatic’s voice-driven ads can interpret and anticipate the intent of a user’s words (and do so in the user’s natural language, so robotic “yes” and “no” responses aren’t needed). That means Instreamatic enables brands which advertise through digital audio channels (streaming music apps, podcasts, etc) to now have interactive (and continuous) voice dialogues with consumers.

Yes, it means you can talk to an advert like it was an Alexa.
 
Instead of an audio ad playing to a listener as a one-way communication (like every T.V. and radio ad before it), brands can now reach and engage with consumers by having voice-interactive conversations. Brands using Instreamatic can also continue conversations with consumers across channels and audio publishers – so fresh ad content is tailored to the full history of each listener’s past engagements and responses.

An advantage of the platform is that people can use their voice to set their advertising preferences. So, when a person says ‘I don’t want to hear about it ever again,’ brands can optimize their marketing strategy either by stopping all remarketing campaigns across all digital media channels targeted to that person, or by optimizing the communication strategy to offer something else instead of the product that was rejected. If the listener expressed interest or no interest, Instreamatic would know that and tailor future ads to match past engagement – providing a continuous dialogue with the user.

Its competitor is AdsWizz which allows users to shake their phones when they are interested in an ad. This effectively allows users to “click” when the audio ad is playing in the background. One of their recent case studies reported that shaking provided 3.95% interaction rates.
 
By contrast, Instreamatic’s voice dialogue marketing platform allows people to talk to audio advertising, skipping irrelevant ads and engaging in interesting ones. Their recent case study claimed a much higher 13.2% voice engagement rate this way.
 
The business model is thus: when advertisers buy voice dialogue ads on its ad exchange, it takes a commission from that ad spend. Publishers, brands and adtech companies can license the technology and Instreamatic charges them a licensing fee based on usage.

Instreamatic has now partnered with Gaana, India’s largest music and content streaming service, to integrate Instreamatic into Gaana’s platform. It’s also partnered with Triton Digital, a service provider to the audio streaming and podcast industry.

This follows similar deals with Pandora, Jacapps, Airkast,
and SurferNETWORK.

All these partnerships means the company can now reach 120 million monthly active users in the United States, 30M in Europe and 150 million in Asia.

Thet company is headquartered in San Francisco and London with a development team in Moscow and features Stas Tushinskiy as CEO and co-founder. Tushinskiy reated the digital audio advertising market in Russia prior to relocating to the U.S. with Instreamatic. International Business Development head and co-founder Simon Dunlop previously founded Bookmate, a subscription-based reading and audiobook platform, and DITelegraph Moscow Tech Hub, and Zvuk.

 


0

BMW says ‘ja’ to Android Auto

18:52 | 11 December

BMW today announced that it is finally bringing Android Auto to its vehicles, starting in July 2020. With that, it will join Apple’s CarPlay in the company’s vehicles.

The first live demo of Android Auto in a BMW will happen at CES 2020 next month and after that, it will become available as an update to drivers in 20 countries with cars that feature the BMW OS 7.0. BMW will support Android Auto over a wireless connection, though, which somewhat limits its comparability.

Only two years ago, the company said that it wasn’t interested in supporting Android Auto. At the time, Dieter May, who was the senior VP for Digital Services and Business Model at the time, explicitly told me that the company wanted to focus on its first-party apps in order to retain full control over the in-car interface and that he wasn’t interested in seeing Android Auto in BMWs. May has since left the company, though it’s also worth noting that Android Auto itself has become significantly more polished over the course of the last two years, too.

“The Google Assistant on Android Auto makes it easy to get directions, keep in touch and stay productive. Many of our customers have pointed out the importance to them of having Android Auto inside a BMW for using a number of familiar Android smartphone features safely without being distracted from the road, in addition to BMW’s own functions and services,” said Peter Henrich, Senior Vice President Product Management BMW, in today’s announcement.

With this, BMW will also finally offer support for the Google Assistant, after early bets on Alexa, Cortana and the BMW Assistant (which itself is built on top of Microsoft’s AI stack). As the company has long said, it wants to offer support for all popular digital assistants and for the Google Assistant, the only way to make that work in a car is, at least for the time being, Android Auto.

In BMWs, Android Auto will see integrations into the car’s digital cockpit, in addition to BMW’s Info Display and the heads-up display (for directions). That’s a pretty deep integration, which goes beyond what most car manufacturers feature today.

“We are excited to work with BMW to bring wireless Android Auto to their customers worldwide next year,” said Patrick Brady, Vice President of Engineering at Google. “The seamless connection from Android smartphones to BMW vehicles allows customers to hit the road faster while maintaining access to all of their favorite apps and services in a safer experience.”

 


0

Google Assistant gets a customized alarm, based on weather and time

20:00 | 10 December

Alarm clocks were one of the most obvious implementations since the introduction of the smart screen. Devices like Lenovo’s Smart Clock and the Amazon Echo Show 5 have demonstrated some interesting in the bedside display form factor, and Google has worked with the former the refine the experience.

This morning, the company introduced a handful of features to refine the experience. “Impromptu” is an interesting new addition to the portfolio that constructs a customized alarm based on a series of factors, including weather and time of day.

Here’s what an 50 degree, early morning wake up sounds like:

https://techcrunch.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/keyword_blog_example_alarm.mp3

Not a bad thing to wake up to. A little Gershwin-esque, perhaps. 

Per a blog post that went up this morning, the alarm ringtone is based on the company’s open-source project, Magenta. Google AI describes it thusly,

Magenta was started by researchers and engineers from the Google Brain team, but many others have contributed significantly to the project. We develop new deep learning and reinforcement learning algorithms for generating songs, images, drawings, and other materials. But it’s also an exploration in building smart tools and interfaces that allow artists and musicians to extend their processes using these models. We use TensorFlow and release our models and tools in open source on our GitHub.

The new feature rolls out today.

 


0

Max Q: SpaceX and Rocket Lab launch rockets and X-Wings take flight

03:13 | 9 December

Sign up here to receive Max Q weekly in your inbox, starting December 15.

This week saw a ton of activity in the space industry, with multiple launches, key preparations for commercial crew missions, robots and much more.

Besides all the real space news, there’s also some extreme fan service for Star Wars lovers, courtesy of Disney and Boeing. Now I’m one day closer to my lifelong dream of becoming a real X-Wing starfighter pilot.

Rocket Lab completes key step towards reusable rockets

Launch startup Rocket Lab has been successfully delivering payloads to orbit for a while now, but earlier this year they announced they’d be moving to a launch system in which the booster they use to propel their spacecraft to orbit is reusable.

An Electron rocket launching during a previous test.

During their 10th mission with their Electron rocket, they took a crucial first step – testing the re-entry systems to bring the booster back to Earth’s atmosphere. Rocket Lab says the test went better than expected, which bodes well from moving to an actual test of properly recovering and refurbishing the thing.

SpaceX launches 19th Space Station resupply mission

The other big launch this week was SpaceX’s CRS-19 launch, which delivered 5,200 lbs of experiments and supplies to the ISS. This launch used a brand new Falcon 9, which SpaceX recovered with a landing at sea, and it also employed a Dragon cargo capsule that the company has flown twice before. On board, there’s a load of amazing new equipment for the ISS, like a ‘robot hotel.’

Emotionally intelligent IBM-powered assistant robot is heading to space

You may not have heard, but there’s an advanced Alexa for astronauts called CIMON, and after a successful first test, it’s headed back to the ISS aboard the above SpaceX launch with improvements. One of its key improvements is a new ability to detect and respond to human emotions, which is, you know, HAL territory.

SpaceX completes 7th parachute test

SpaceX is getting closer to a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to its ability to launch astronauts on its commercial crew spacecraft. The company needs to do at least 10 parachute tests in a row to get ship-shape for its crew launch, and it’s now pretty close to getting that done before year’s end.

Boeing completes dress rehearsal of crew launch

Boeing is also getting closer to its own commercial crew launch, and in fact completed an entire rehearsal of how the mission will go on on launch day when it does its uncrewed launch. This rehearsal including fully feeling the rocket, and next time that happens, it’ll be taking off.

Real X-Wings fly for real (really)

X-Wing starfighters ascended through the night sky over Orlando, Florida this week as Disney celebrated the opening of its new ‘Rise of the Resistance’ attraction at Disney World. The X-Wings (2 of them!) were modified versions of a large cargo drone that Boeing has been developing, but both companies are keeping mum on any further details right now.

Here’s what’s up in the world of space startups and investing

What’s going on with space tech, and why is it having a moment? What’s coming next, and where is the smart money going? The answers to those questions and more lie in Starburst founder and aerospace investor François Chopard’s informative deck about space and defense, available exclusively to Extra Crunch subscribers.

 


0

AWS expands its IoT services, brings Alexa to devices with only 1MB of RAM

22:13 | 25 November

AWS today announced a number of IoT-related updates that, for the most part, aim to make getting started with its IoT services easier, especially for companies that are trying to deploy a large fleet of devices. The marquee announcement, however, is about the Alexa Voice Service, which makes Amazon’s Alex voice assistant available to hardware manufacturers who want to build it into their devices. These manufacturers can now create “Alexa built-in” devices with very low-powered chips and 1MB of RAM.

Until now, you needed at least 100MB of RAM and an ARM Cortex A-class processor. Now, the requirement for Alexa Voice Service integration for AWS IoT Core has come down 1MB and a cheaper Cortex-M processor. With that, chances are you’ll see even more lightbulbs, light switches and other simple, single-purpose devices with Alexa functionality. You obviously can’t run a complex voice-recognition model and decision engine on a device like this, so all of the media retrieval, audio decoding, etc. is done in the cloud. All it needs to be able to do is detect the wake word to start the Alex functionality, which is a comparably simple model.

“We now offload the vast majority of all of this to the cloud,” AWS IoT VP Dirk Didascalou told me. “So the device can be ultra dumb. The only thing that the device still needs to do is wake word detection. That still needs to be covered on the device.” Didascalou noted that with new, lower-powered processors from NXP and Qualcomm, OEMs can reduce their engineering bill of materials by up to 50 percent, which will only make this capability more attractive to many companies.

Didascalou believes we’ll see manufacturers in all kinds of areas use this new functionality, but most of it will likely be in the consumer space. “It just opens up the what we call the real ambient intelligence and ambient computing space,” he said. “Because now you don’t need to identify where’s my hub — you just speak to your environment and your environment can interact with you. I think that’s a massive step towards this ambient intelligence via Alexa.”

No cloud computing announcement these days would be complete without talking about containers. Today’s container announcement for AWS’ IoT services is that IoT Greengrass, the company’s main platform for extending AWS to edge devices, now offers support for Docker containers. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. The early idea of Greengrass was to have developers write Lambda functions for it. But as Didascalou told me, a lot of companies also wanted to bring legacy and third-party applications to Greengrass devices, as well as those written in languages that are not currently supported by Greengrass. Didascalou noted that this also means you can bring any container from the Docker Hub or any other Docker container registry to Greengrass now, too.

“The idea of Greengrass was, you build an application once. And whether you deploy it to the cloud or at the edge or hybrid, it doesn’t matter, because it’s the same programming model,” he explained. “But very many older applications use containers. And then, of course, you saying, okay, as a company, I don’t necessarily want to rewrite something that works.”

Another notable new feature is Stream Manager for Greengrass. Until now, developers had to cobble together their own solution for managing data streams from edge devices, using Lambda functions. Now, with this new feature, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to build a new solution for connection management and data retention policies, etc., but can instead rely on this new functionality to do that for them. It’s pre-integrated with AWS Kinesis and IoT Analytics, too.

Also new for AWS IoT Greengrass are fleet provisioning, which makes it easier for businesses to quickly set up lots of new devices automatically, as well as secure tunneling for AWS IoT Device Management, which makes it easier for developers to remote access into a device and troubleshoot them. In addition, AWS IoT Core now features configurable endpoints.

 


0

Mercedes prices its all-electric EQC crossover at $67,900

22:45 | 20 November

The Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 4MATIC, the German automaker’s first all-electric vehicle under its new EQ brand, will start at $67,900 when it arrives in the U.S. early next year.

Mercedes-Benz announced Wednesday the price of the EQC 400 at the LA Auto Show. The price, which doesn’t account for the $7,500 federal tax credit, is notable because it’s below competitors like the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron and Tesla Model X.

It’s been a year since Mercedes-Benz unveiled the EQC, an all-electric crossover that kicked off the automaker’s plans to invest more than $12 billion to produce a line of battery-powered models under its new EQ brand. And in March, TechCrunch got a brief ride in the crossover in Austin during SXSW. In short, information about the vehicle has been out there. But the price has not.

The Mercedes EQC has a new drive system with compact dual electric drivetrains at each axle, which together generates 402 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. The EQC can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds.

Mercedes has configured the vehicle motors to handle different aspects of the driving. The front electric motor is optimized for efficiency in the low to medium load range, while the rear motor is designed to create a sporty driving experience.

The vehicle’s 80 kilowatt-hour battery has an estimated range of around 200 miles, Mercedes-Benz has said in the past. The company didn’t provide updated numbers The battery has standard DC fast-charging that can reach an 80% charge in 40 minutes.

The EQC will come standard with the company’s new MBUX infotainment system, which is already in the A-Class. The infotainment system has put an emphasis on voice assistant technology and navigation, which will be a critical for new EV converts worried about locating charging stations. EQ-optimized navigation, driving modes, charging current and departure time can also be controlled and set via MBUX, the company said.

MBUX will recommend the shortest amount of time needed to get to a destination uses online services to find available DC fast charging stations to use if the operating range is insufficient. Mercedes-Benz customers can also find charging stations via the Mercedes me Charge card, the Mercedes me App or directly from the car.

The onboard charger makes the most from available external power, with the battery able to recharge from 10% to 80% in just 40 minutes.

The EQC will be available in three tiers at launch called progressive, premium and advanced. The progressive and premium tiers will offer two curated paint and upholstery options, while three selections will be available for the more expensive advanced tier.

The entry level progressive trim will come standard with MBUX, two 10.25-inch digital displays with touchscreen, advanced driver assistance system features like active brake assist with autonomous emergency braking, LED headlamps with adaptive highbeam assist and three years of

Production of the EQC started this year at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen.

 


0

Google Assistant introduces personalized playlists of audio news

21:10 | 19 November

Starting today, when you say “Hey Google, play me the news” to a Google Assistant-enabled phone or smart speaker, you’ll get a tailored playlist of the day’s big headlines and stories.

That’s probably what many of us are hoping for when we listen to a news radio station or a daily news podcast during the morning commute. But those come from a single broadcaster, and may require you to hop around to get all the news you’re looking for.

In contrast, the feature that Google is calling Your News Update draws stories from a variety of publisher partners, focusing on the ones that seem relevant to your interests and your location.

“Audio has always been great,” said Audio News Product Manager Liz Gannes (a former tech journalist herself.) “It’s a tremendously evocative medium that conveys an immense amount of information.”

But she suggested that “the distribution technology has been slower [t evolve] than things like text and video,” which is why Google has been experimenting in this area. For example, it’s already added news stories to Google Assistant, as well as responses to news-related questions like “What’s the latest news about Brexit?”

Gannes added that behind the scenes, the company has been developing “an open specification for single topic audio stories.” So rather than dealing with an unwieldy hourlong broadcast or podcast, Google Assistant is working clips focused on a specific piece of news.

Your News Update usually starts with a few brief, general interest clips — namely, the big headlines of the day. Then it starts playing longer stories that are selected based on what Google knows about you.

For example, when I tried it out this morning, my update began with a 30-second update on the impeachment from Fox News (not one of my regular news sources) and ran through other then major stories of the day, then switched to longer (two- to three-minute) entertainment stories from sources like The Hollywood Reporter.

Gannes noted that “there’s a big emphasis on local news in this product — that don’t just mean where you live, but also other locations you care about.” And she said the average update will be around an hour and a half — so it can keep you occupied during a long commute, no dial-fiddling required.

John Ciancutti, Google’s director of engineering for search, added that the recommendations should get smarter over time: “If you want to skip a story … the more you listen, the better sense we get of your tastes and interests.” He also suggested that Your News Update could become more sensitive to context, offering different stories depending on whether (say) you’re in your car or in your kitchen.

“You can imagine in the future, you tune in and we know you’re in your car on Tuesday morning at 7:36, and we can predict based on other listening that you’ve got about a 28-minute commute,” Ciancutti said.

Your News Update is currently available in English in the United States, with plans for international expansion next year.

 


0

The iRobot Roomba s9+ and Braava m6 are the robots you should trust to clean your house well

17:29 | 19 November

This holiday season, we’re going to be looking back at some of the best tech of the past year, and providing fresh reviews in a sort of ‘greatest hits’ across a range of categories. First up: iRobot’s top-end home cleaning robots, the Roomba s9+ robot vacuum, and the Braava m6 robot mop and floor sweeper. Both of these represent the current peak of iRobot’s technology, and while that shows up in the price tag, it also shows up in performance.

iRobot Roomba S9+

The iRobot Roomba S9+ is actually two things: The Roomba S9, which is available separately, and the Clean Base that enables the vacuum to empty itself after a run, giving you many cleanings before it needs you to actually open up a bin or replace a bag. Both the vacuum and its base are WiFi-connected, and controllable via iRobot’s app, as well as Google Assistant and Alexa. Combined, it’s the most advanced autonomous home vacuum you can get, and it manages to outperform a lot of older or less sophisticated robot vacuums even in situations that have historically been hard for this kind of tech to handle.

Like the Roomba S7 before it (which is still available and still also a great vacuum, for a bit less money), the S9 uses what’s called SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), and a specific variant of that called vSLAM (the stands for ‘visual’). This technology means that as it works, it’s generating and adapting a map of your home to ensure that it can clean more effectively and efficiently.

After either a few dedicated training runs (which you can opt to send the vacuum on when it’s learning a new space) or a few more active vacuum runs, the Roomba S9 will remember your home’s layout, and provide a map that you can customize with room dividers and labels. This then turns on the vacuum’s real smart superpowers, which include being able to vacuum just specific rooms on command, as well as features like letting it easily pick up where it left off if it needs to return to its charging station mid-run. With the S9 and its large battery, the vacuum can do an entire run of my large two-bedroom condo on a single charge (the i7 I used previously needed two charges to finish up).

The S9’s vSLAM and navigation systems seem incredibly well-developed in my use: I’ve never once had the vacuum become stuck, or confused by changes in floor colouring, even going from a very light to a very dark floor (this is something that past vacuums have had difficulty with). It infallibly finds its way back to the Clean Base, and also never seems to be flummoxed by even drastic changes in lighting over the course of the day.

So it’s smart, but does it suck? Yes, it does – in the best possible way. Just like it doesn’t require stops to charge up, it also manages to clean my entire space with just one bin. There’s a lot more room in here thanks to the new design, and it handles even my dog’s hair with ease (my dog sheds a lot, and it’s very obvious light hair against dark wood floors). The new angled design on the front of the vacuum means it does a better job with getting in corners than previous fully round designs, and that shows, because corners are were clumps of hair go to gather in a dog-friendly household.

The ‘+’ in the S9+ is that Clean Base as I mentioned – think of it like the tower of lazy cleanliness. The base has a port that sucks dirt from the S9 when it’s done a run, shooting it into a bag in the top of the tower that can hold up to 30 full bins of dirt. That ends up being a lot in practice – it should last you months, depending on house size. Replacement bags cost $20 for three, which is probably what you’ll go through in a year, so it’s really a negligible cost for the convenience you’re getting.

Braava m6

The Roomba S9’s best friend, if you will, is the Braava m6. This is iRobot’s latest and greatest smart mop, which is exactly what it sounds like: Whereas Roomba vacuums, the Braava uses either single use disposable, or microfibre washable/reusable pads, as well as iRobot’s own cleaning fluid, to clean hardwood, tile, vinyl, cork and other hard surface floors once the vacuuming is done. It can also just run a dry sweep, which is useful for picking up dust and pet hair, as a finishing touch on the vacuum’s run.

iRobot has used its unique position in offering both of these types of smart devices to have them work together – if you have both the S9 and the Braava m6 added to your iRobot Home app, you’ll get an option to mop the floors right after the vacuum job is complete. It’s an amazing convenience feature, and one that works fairly well – but there are some differences in the smarts powering the Braava m6 and the Roomba s9 that lead to some occasional challenges.

The Braava m6 doesn’t seem to be quite as capable when it comes to mapping and navigating its surroundings. My condo layout is relatively simple, all one level with no drops or gaps. But the m6 has encountered some scenarios where it doesn’t seem to be able to cross a threshold or make sense of all floor types. Based on error messages, it seems like it’s identifying some surfaces as ‘cliffs’ or steep drops when transitioning back from lighter floors to darker ones.

What this means in practice is that a couple of times per run, I have to reposition the Braava manually. There are ways to solve for this, however, built into the software: Thanks to the smart mapping feature, I can just direct the Braava to focus only on the rooms with dark hardwood, or I can just adjust it when I get an alert that it’s having difficulty. It’s still massively more convenient than mopping by hand, and typically the m6 does about 90 percent of the apartment before it runs into difficult in one of these few small trouble areas.

If you’ve read online customer reviews fo the m6, you may also have seen complaints that it can leave tire marks on dark floors. I found that to be true – but with a few caveats. They definitely aren’t as pronounced as I expected based on some of the negative reviews out there, and I have very dark floors. They also only are really visible in direct sunlight, and then only faintly. They also fade pretty quickly, which means you won’t notice them most of the time if you’re mopping only once ever few vacuum runs. In the end, it’s something to be aware of, but for me it’s not a dealbreaker – far from it. The m6 still does a fantastic job overall of mopping and sweeping, and saves me a ton of labor on what is normally a pretty back-hostile manual task.

Bottom line

These iRobot home cleaning gadgets are definitely high-end, with the s9 starting at $1,099.99 ($1,399.99 with the cleaning base) and the m6 staring at $499.99. You can get a bundle with both staring at $1439.98, but even that is still a lot for cleaning appliances. This is definitely a case where the ‘you get what you pay for’ maxim proves true, however. Either rate s9+ alone, or the combo of the vacuum and mop represent a huge convenience, especially when used on a daily or similar regular schedule, vs. doing the same thing manually. The s9 also frankly does a better job than I ever could wth my own manual vacuum, since it’s much better at getting into corners, under couches, and cleaning along and under trip thanks to its spinning brush. And asking Alexa to have Roomba start a cleaning run feels like living in the future in the best possible way.

 


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