By CHRIS BARTON
As I left for work the other morning, I suddenly remembered I'd forgotten to do the vacuuming. I rushed back inside, turned on the robot, then strolled off to catch the ferry.
The harbour was flat as glass and glistening in the early morning sun. Beautiful - this is how vacuuming was meant to be.
It sounds like something out of The Jetsons, but for the last week that's how I've been doing the vacuuming - with Karcher's RC 3000 cleaning robot.
The RC 3000 uses "the random method" of cleaning - similar to how my kids occasionally vacuum their rooms, except the RC 3000 doesn't give up after two minutes.
As with the kids, it's frustrating to watch the cleaner's programmed progress - bump into an object, rotate to change direction, go forward, bump, rotate, go forward, bump, etc.
At times when it finds itself in tricky spaces it takes an aeon to find a way out - but in most cases the random method prevails. It does sometimes get stuck and turns itself off - so you quickly learn where the robot traps are in the house.
It doesn't like clothes left on the floor and got imprisoned by our hearth.
Be warned, watching the RC 3000's idiot meandering can be quite mesmerising. It also has a great party trick of backing off at the last minute when you're sure it's about to crash down the stairs.
At first you think randomly bumping off walls and furniture can't possibly properly clean the floors. But after letting the robot roam on its battery-powered wheels for a few hours, you're pleasantly surprised at how clean the floors are.
You can also shut the door on it, so it cleans one room at a time. Its dinner-plate size and low (98mm) profile lets it crawl under furniture. But the circular shape means it doesn't quite get into corners.
It's not designed for cleaning cushions or curtains either - so you're going to need something like a Dustbuster as well.
But by employing the "continuous cleaning" random method - a little every day, rather than the once-a-week burst that happens in our house - dirt build-up, especially in corners, is substantially reduced.
Our house suffers from a daily influx of pet hair and the RC 3000 was great for keeping this at bay - although it did frighten the dog.
The cleaning mechanism is a combination of a cylindrical rotating brush - like a manual carpet sweeper - and suction. The brush, which has bristles arranged in a spiral pattern, does tend to get wrapped in hairs and threads which have to be cut free from time to time.
You're also advised to give the dust sensors on the underside a wipe once and a while. That's so the robot can go into its back-and-forth "star pattern" mode when it detects a particularly dirty bit of floor.
The RC 3000 works fine on wooden floors and adapts automatically to different floor coverings including carpets and linoleum - although the manual advises it's not great on carpets with an extremely long (greater than 20mm) pile.
Fully charged, the RC 3000 will clean for up to 60 minutes. To recharge its batteries and empty its small dust box the robot returns to its base station - finding it by homing in on an infra-red beam.
I found when the RC 3000 was at the far end of the house it wasn't always successful in finding its way home. Recharging takes between 10 and 20 minutes. Dust and dirt are automatically discharged to a normal 2-litre disposable dust bag at the base station. Operation is as simple as turning on both the base station and robot and selecting the cleaning time - three-, six-, nine-hour or permanent cleaning.
A "park" button lets you stop the robot after it next returns to its station. There's also a quiet mode which reduces the noise from 58 to 54dB, but also reduces performance.
Quiet mode is designed so you are not disturbed when the robot is cleaning while you're watching TV or if you want to leave the robot running while you're sleeping.
My overall impression? Brilliant - an evolutionary leap in vacuuming since William Henry Hoover invented the first bag-on-a-stick Hoover in 1908 - and I want one. But at $2995 I can only dream.
Still, there are a few of these robots coming on to the market such as the Trilobite from Electrolux and iRobot's Roomba.
The latter sells in America for $US199 ($347). So as prices come down maybe one day I really will have a robot in my house.
Karcher RC 3000
* Also known as Rosie the RoboCleaner.
* Price: $2995.
* Distributed by Godfreys.
* Pros: Easy to use, makes vacuuming a dream.
* Cons: Expensive, doesn't get into corners.
* Rating: 8/10.
By CHRIS BARTON