I am a very busy man with a couple of jobs, three daughters, a house, and a wife, all of which occupy my time. Thus, if I can find ways to have today’s modern electronics take care of tasks and lift the chore load, then I am going to pass off what I can.
See it now: Roborock S5 robot vacuum on Amazon
One area that I’ve given over to robots is vacuuming the lower level of my house, which is primarily composed of hardware floors and a couple of area rugs. Various models have been tested over the past couple of years, so I have some practical experiences with these devices. Most people have heard of Roomba, Samsung, and Neato in this space, but there are some other options out there that are worth consideration.
Also: Beyond vacuums: Home robotics
A couple of months ago the Roborock S5 arrived, and it has been cleaning my lower level floors since then. This has included through a couple of business trips, vacations, and weeks of activity with two dogs, a cat, and a family of five moving around throughout the house.
Hardware and box contents
The Roborock S5 arrived in a plain cardboard box with some identifying words in black. It was actually shipped from Amazon since that is the retail partner for Roborock and Xiaomi. You may recall that the Mi Electric Scooter I tested in April was also from Xiaomi and sold through Amazon.
The Roborock brand is not prevalent in this space or in the US, but it seems to be gaining traction with highly rated reviews on Amazon and a selection as Amazon’s Choice. After using it for a couple of months, it is definitely one of my favorite robot vacuums due to its capability, reliability, functionality with smartphones, and effectiveness at cleaning up the house.
There is a power button on the top center with two other buttons on either side. The left button is for spot cleaning, and the right button is to send your vacuum home to the charger. I only used these occasionally, as I relied on the smartphone integration and apps for most functionality.
The top houses the LDS (laser distance sensor) in a central round area that rises above the top of the vacuum about half an inch. Behind this is the lid to access the dust bin and other internal parts of the vacuum. A wall sensor sticks out from the front half of the vacuum with a rotating side brush over on the right side peeking out from under the vacuum. The speaker and an air vent are found around the back.
Lifting up the lid reveals the Wi-Fi indicator light, system reset button, main brush cleaning tool, and the dust bin with a removable filter for fine dust.
Also: Hands-on with the iLife A7 robot cleaner: A must-have for automated office and home cleaning
On the bottom, we have two large main wheels with silicone tire treads that are sure not to scuff up your hardwood or tile floors. There is a main brush, the side brush, an omnidirectional wheel, and two charging contacts.
The Roborock S5 also supports wet mopping with a slim water tank, mopping cloth, and moistureproof mat. One of the primary problems I have had with robot vacuums is having them return every time to the charging station and recharge on their own. The moistureproof mat connects to the dock charger so that the vacuum properly aligns with the charging contacts every single time and the only time the vacuum has died on me was when it ended up in a stuck position under a chair or behind some other obstacle.
The dust bin, 480ml capacity, has proven to hold one to two vacuum sessions for the approximate 700 square feet of coverage on my wood floors with a few raised area rugs. My floors look pretty clean, but it is stunning to everyone how much dog hair and other things are picked up by this vacuum on a regular basis. There is a washable E11-grade strainer/filter in the dust bin that is rated to provide 95 percent filter performance after a year of normal use.
Our acacia hardwood floors are beautiful and well taken care of. My wife was concerned about the vacuum creating marks on the floors, but the soft silicone wheels turn and navigate around the floors with no trace of their passing. The bumper also quickly detects obstacles so has not dented or marked up our walls, table legs, or chair legs in any way.
The retail package also includes a main brush cleaning tool with a hook end that slices through hair stuck on the brush bar. With my long-haired dog and women in the house, hair is a constant battle for the vacuum.
Software and services
You can control the vacuum using your iOS or Android device by downloading and installing the Mi Home app. This is the same app used to manage the electric scooter that I tested earlier this year, along with other products from Xiaomi.
Simply walk through the setup of the Mi Home app to connect your phone or tablet to the Roborock S5. The great thing about this Mi Home app is that you can install it on multiple devices, which can all control the Roborock S5 with the same login. Unlike some other robot vacuums I have tested, the Roborock S5 map translates over to all connected devices. This was a major frustration with other vacuums that constantly wanted to recreate my floor map.
The Mi Home application launches with the floor plan (after it creates it the first time), history of last cleaning event, and quick controls below the map. These controls currently include Go, Dock, Clean, and Zoned Cleanup. The Go option lets you designate spot cleanup and manual control over where you want the vacuum to operate. The Dock option sends the vacuum back to its charging station. The Clean option initiates a full cleaning operation.
Also: Startup Kindred brings sliver of hope for AI in robotics
Zoned cleanup lets you designate one or more square zones for targeted vacuuming. This takes some time if you want to vacuum most everywhere except for one or two spots, so I am hopeful that a future software update will take the opposite approach and let you designate exclusionary zones.
I would also like to see virtual barriers supported, so I could draw lines across some areas that really do not need cleaning as often as other areas.
The smartphone software provides the ability to control the vacuum volume, carpet mode, level of suction (higher levels are louder), setup a cleaning schedule, update the firmware, monitor the status of accessories, and much more. It is a full-featured software application that is easy to use.
Price and competition
The Roborock S5 has a MSRP of $579.99, but the white model can be found on Amazon for $463.99.
Competition includes the array of Neato Botvac Connected vacuums ranging in price from $500 to $700, the iRobot Roomba vacuums priced $400 to $550, and the Samsung POWERbot line from $400 to $900. All these have different capabilities, so there is a lot to check out when comparing these vacuums to the features included in the Roborock S5.
Also: Best Robot Vacuum Cleaners for 2018 CNET
Daily usage experiences and conclusion
The Roborock S5 has proven to be a very reliable vacuum with a floor map that is captured and then maintained across devices. It is very powerful and does an excellent job of sweeping and mopping while having battery power to easily vacuum my entire main floor of the house. The Z-shape cleaning pattern has excellent coverage to make sure everything is cleaned. The 5200mAh battery is advertised to last 150 minutes and that is just about what I have been seeing over the last couple of months.
See it now: Roborock S5 robot vacuum on Amazon
I appreciated using the floor wet mopping feature, as the system adds just enough to wet and clean the floor without soaking it or leaking water everywhere. It seems to be an effective system and has helped keep our floors clean, although it is obviously not as powerful as cleaning your floor on your hands and knees.
Also: Photos: Robot vacuums and rolling laptops TechRepublic
It rarely gets stuck, unless someone in the house changes the arrangement during vacuuming. One time, the vacuum had some issues going back and forth attempting to vacuum over a thick carpet, but that only occurred once in the two months of use.
Another area for improvement in the software is to include voice assistant support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and others.
Overall, the Roborock S5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner has proven to be a great performer at a price that is reasonable given its power, efficiency, and utility.
Previous and related coverage:
Automation: How iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner became part of the family
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Former head of Facebook app Fidji Simo defends company following whistleblower testimony – TechCrunch
The former head of the Facebook app, who reported directly to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Fidji Simo, defended the social network at the start of an interview at the WSJ Tech Live event this afternoon. The exec was there to discuss her new role as Instacart CEO and her vision for the future of food delivery, but was asked to comment on the recent Facebook whistleblower’s testimony and the attention it has since raised.
Simo said she understood the scrutiny given Facebook’s impact on people’s lives. But she’s also worried that Facebook will never be able to do enough to appease its critics at this point, despite the complexity of the issues Facebook is grappling with as one of the world’s largest social networks.
“They are spending billions of dollars in keeping people safe. They are doing the most in-depth research of any company I know to understand their impact,” she argued, still very much on Facebook’s side, despite her recent departure. “And I think my worry is that people want ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to this question, but really these questions require a lot of nuance,” she added.
While the whistleblower, Frances Haugen, suggested that Facebook’s decision to prioritize user engagement through its algorithms was ultimately putting profits over people, Simo cautioned the choices weren’t quite as binary as have been described to date. She explained that making changes based on the research Facebook had invested in wasn’t just a matter of turning a dial and “all of a sudden, magically problems disappear — because Facebook is fundamentally a reflection of humanity,” she said.
Instead, Simo said that the real issues at Facebook were around how every change Facebook makes can have significant societal applications at this point. It has to work to determine how it can improve upon the potentially problematic areas of its business without incidentally affecting other things along the way.
“When we discuss trade-offs, it’s usually trade-offs between two types of societal impacts,” she noted.
As an example, Simo used what would seem like a fairly straightforward adjustment to make: determine which posts make Facebook users angry then show people less of those.
As Haugen had testified, Facebook’s algorithms have been designed to reward engagement. That means posts with “likes” and other interactions spread more widely and are distributed higher up in people’s News Feeds. But she also said engagement doesn’t just come from likes and positive reactions. Engagement-based algorithms will ultimately prioritize clickbait and posts that make people angry. This, in turn, can help to boost the spread of posts eliciting stronger reactions, like misinformation or even toxic and violent content.
Simo, however, said it’s not as simple as it sounds to just dial down the anger across Facebook, as doing so would lead to another type of societal impact.
“You start digging in and you realize that the biggest societal movements were created out of anger,” she said. That led the company to question how it could make a change that could impact people’s activism.
(This isn’t quite how that situation unfolded, according to a report by the WSJ. Instead, when the algorithm was tweaked to prioritize personal posts over professionally produced content, publishers and political parties adjusted their posts toward outrage and sensationalism. And Zuckerberg resisted some of the proposed fixes to this problem, the report said.)
“That’s just a random example,” Simo said of the “anger” problem. “But literally, on every issue, there is always a trade-off that is another type of societal impact. And I can tell you for having been in these rooms for many, many years, it’s really never about like, ‘oh, are we doing the right thing for society, versus the right thing for Facebook and for profits’…the debate was really between some kinds of societal impact and another kind — which is a very hard debate to have as a private company.”
This, she added, was why Facebook wanted regulations.
“It’s not surprising that Facebook has been calling for regulation in this space for a very long time because they never want to be in a position of being the ones deciding which implications, which ramifications, which trade-offs they need to make between one type of societal impact and another type of societal impact. The governments are better positioned to do that,” she said.
Given the increasing amount of evidence coming out that Facebook itself understood, through its own internal research, that there were areas of its business that negatively impact society, Simo didn’t chalk up her departure from the social network to anything that was going on with Facebook itself.
Instead, she said she just wasn’t learning as much after 10 years with the company, and Instacart presented her with a great opportunity where she could learn “a different set of things,” she said.
Facebook scales back its crypto ambitions once again – TechCrunch
Facebook is launching a small pilot of its cryptocurrency wallet named Novi. A limited number of people in the U.S. and Guatemala can sign up to Novi and start using it.
Facebook is a founding member of the Diem Association. Instead of taking advantage of the association’s stablecoin (Diem) on the association’s blockchain (the Diem network), the company is partnering with Paxos and Coinbase to let users send and receive USDP, with Coinbase managing crypto custody. But this is just an intermediate step as Facebook still plans to replace USDP with Diem at some point.
Facebook originally had big plans for its crypto project. The company created a consortium of companies called the Libra Association. Together, they were supposed to launch the Libra cryptocurrency, a brand new currency tied to a basket of fiat currencies and securities. Originally, it wouldn’t be based on a single real-world currency, but on a mix of multiple currencies.
But Facebook faced strong opposition from many central banks — they feared that Libra would become a quasi-sovereign currency in some countries. Last year, the association announced that it would reduce its ambitions by focusing on single-currency stablecoins.
A stablecoin is a crypto asset with a fixed value that doesn’t fluctuate over time. For instance, the Libra Association wanted to launch the LibraUSD. One LibraUSD would always be worth one USD.
A few months later, the Libra Association announced some changes once again. The project was rebranded to the Diem Association. Similarly, Facebook’s wallet project was rebranded from Calibra to Novi. But neither Diem nor Novi were ready for prime time.
And now, Facebook is going to start testing Novi with some real users. The company is focusing on remittance between the U.S. and Guatemala. Novi users who want to send money can download the Novi app, create an account and add money using a payment method, such as a debit card.
Whenever you add USD, your money is converted to USDP without any fees. USDP is a stablecoin tied to USD created by Paxos. It used to be called the Pax Dollar (PAX), but Paxos recently rebranded it to USDP.
Behind the scenes, USDP is backed by cash and cash equivalents to ensure its value. User funds are managed by Coinbase Custody, meaning that Coinbase stores USDP funds for Novi users.
Novi users can then send USDP to other Novi users. Once again, there are no fees involved with money transfers. But chances are you can’t use Novi to pay in store or pay your rent. That’s why users can withdraw their Novi balance at a cash location, or transfer their balance to a bank account.
But Novi doesn’t say if there are fees involved when you convert your USDP to Guatemalan quetzal. So we’re back to square one, as Novi has to pick an exchange rate, which involves spread, liquidity and other variables. Novi also has to create fiat-to-crypto on-ramps and off-ramps across all markets where it wants to operate.
Facebook says that this is just the beginning for Novi. First, it is only available as a pilot for some users in Guatemala and the U.S. (except Alaska, Nevada, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Second, Facebook and the Diem Association haven’t shelved plans to launch their own cryptocurrency at some point.
“I do want to be clear that our support for Diem hasn’t changed and we intend to launch Novi with Diem once it receives regulatory approval and goes live. We care about interoperability and we want to do it right,” Novi project lead David Marcus said on Twitter.
Facebook unveiled the Libra cryptocurrency in June 2019. The crypto ecosystem has changed drastically since then. In particular, some stablecoins have become incredibly popular — Tether and USD Coin have a combined circulating supply of more than $100 billion right now. So it’s going to be interesting to see if Diem can catch up with existing stablecoins and unlock some new use cases.
Instagram is adding ‘Collabs,’ new music features for Reels, desktop posting and more – TechCrunch
Instagram today announced a number of new features that will roll out this week across both the Instagram Feed and its TikTok competitor, Reels. The creator-focused additions will allow users to collaborate with one another, raise funds, and make better use of music on Reels, among other things. The company will also make its Instagram desktop website more usable, by allowing people to finally be able to post both photos and videos under one minute in length using their desktop web browser.
The latter has been a long-requested new feature, the company notes, and will become available to global audiences as of Thursday, October 21.
The company had previously tested the feature this summer, but it was not widely available.
The other new features will drop throughout the week, starting today with “Collabs.”
Instagram describes this feature as a “test,” explaining that it will allow people to co-author both Feed posts and Reels. To do so, users can invite another account to be a collaborator from the tagging screen on Instagram. If the other person accepts, both accounts will appear in the post or the Reels header and content will be shared to both sets of followers. Although Instagram is only announcing the test today, many Instagram users have already spotted the feature in the app, as the company began a small-scale global test of this feature back in July.
At the time, Instagram said only a small number of people would have access to the feature, and it didn’t indicate when it would roll out more broadly.
When two creators choose to collab, the post or Reel will appear on both their Profile Grids and it will have a shared view count, like count and comment thread, Instagram says.
On Wednesday, Instagram will also begin to test a new way to create fundraisers for nonprofits, with the introduction of a feature that lets you start the fundraiser directly from the creation button (the “+” plus button at the top right of the screen.). When you tap this option, instead of selecting Post, Story, Reels, or Live, you’ll see an option to select a nonprofit and add the fundraiser to your Feed post.
Instagram has supported fundraisers for some time, even adding support for nonprofit fundraising during livestreams last year. But it hadn’t before offering a way to create a fundraiser from a standalone spot right from your Instagram profile.
This feature had been spotted ahead of this week’s launch by developer and reverse engineer Alessandro Paluzzi, who found the new fundraiser button in development back in September.
Two other new additions are meant to enhance Instagram Reels, when used with music.
On Thursday, Instagram will introduce two new effects called Superbeat and Dynamic Lyrics, which will help creators who edit and perform using music on Reels. Superbeat will intelligently apply special effects to music to the beat of the user’s song while Dynamic Lyrics will display 3D lyrics that will flow with the song’s “groove,” says Instagram.
These new features follow TikTok’s rollout of a half dozen interactive music effects back in April, including several that add visual effects synced the beat of a song. Reels, meanwhile, has offered a much more limited selection of first-party creative effects until now, instead relying on its community to expand its library beyond the basics like a timer or speed adjustment tool, for instance.
The Reels features will arrive alongside posting from the desktop, which Instagram says will be limited to photos and videos under one minute in length. The company this month dropped its IGTV brand for long-form video, but still allows for videos up to 60 minutes. That’s now just considered “Instagram Video” — a term that includes anything that’s not video in a Story or in Reels.
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