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Robots at War: Vileda Virobi versus Koolvac KV-1

Updated on February 11, 2015
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Walter Shillington is an avid collector of mechanical timepieces. While he focuses mainly on watches, Walter also reviews household items.

Vileda Virobi Top View
Vileda Virobi Top View
Vileda Virobi Bottom View
Vileda Virobi Bottom View

The Contenders

In an attempt to cope with the pet hair my cat was constantly shedding I picked up a Vileda Virobi. It was only after I completed the purchase that I remembered the antique Koolvac robot vacuum I’d acquired at a yard sale. Although the old unit worked well my roommate complained about the noise and I eventually stored the vacuum away. I decided to give the Koolvac a second chance and compare it directly against its modern descendant.


Virobi Robot Sweeper

The Virobi is a quiet, lightweight dust mop. It uses a detachable electrostatic pad to pick up dust and pet hair. Once the pad becomes dirty, you simply replace it.

The Virobi somewhat resembles a hat with a floppy brim. The electrostatic pad attaches to a Velcro strip which runs along the outer edge of the brim. The included battery charger plugs into a receptacle at the top of the unit. Alongside the receptacle are two buttons. One button initiates a thirty minute sweeping cycle and the second will keep the robot running until its battery dies. If the Virobi becomes stuck a red led will indicate its distress. There is no audio alarm.

Two small plastic wheels push the Virobi along until it runs against a wall or another object. Then it bounces off and continues along in another direction. Through sheer perseverance the Virobi will work away until it has swept the entire room. This unit can be purchased for forty dollars; far below what you would pay for a traditional robotic vacuum.


Koolvac KV-1 Robotic Vacuum

I purchased this vacuum at a flea market for twenty dollars but its original price was close to two hundred. Although the Koolvac is an old, battle-scarred veteran, this unit contains many of the features incorporated into today’s modern robotic vacuums. These include a sensor designed to prevent the vacuum from falling over an edge and a special bumper which works to ensure the unit will take notice of an obstruction and clean around it.

A whirling side-brush pushes into edges and corners, sweeping debris under the robot. Another roller style brush will catch the dirt, direct it inside the machine and, with the assistance of a small fan, deposit it into a catch basket. The catch basket incorporates a removable and washable filter.

Three buttons allow adjustment for small, medium, and large sized rooms. This unit will maneuver over carpets, functioning as carpet sweeper. Unlike the Virobi, the Koolvac will not simply bounce off a wall. The unit carefully edges its way along the obstruction, sweeping as it goes.

It can be bullheaded, however. Once the Koolvac wasted three minutes, doggedly circling the leg of a kitchen chair before it finally decided to move off. If the unit becomes stuck and cannot free itself, the Koolvac will flash a series of green lights and emit a loud and complaining beep.

The Koolvac closely resembles the first iRobot Roomba. So close, in fact, that iRobot successfully sued the company, barring them from selling their vacuum in the United States. For me, this similarity proved useful. I was able to adopt a Roomba side brush I purchased from iRobot for use with this vacuum cleaner.

Koolvac Top View
Koolvac Top View
Koolvac Bottom View
Koolvac Bottom View

Obstruction Avoidance

I ran several trials to examine the ability of the robots to deal with obstructions.

One such test evaluated the unit’s ability to cope with the one inch drop between the level of my kitchen floor and that of my dining room. The Virobi failed miserably. The Kookvac with its edge detection sensor should have fared better but a length of trim running along the bottom of the doorway confused the device. It also failed.

The Koolvac experienced difficulties escaping from a cramped section of the kitchen where a chair was positioned alongside a cabinet. In all but one case it eventually extracted itself. The smaller and lighter Virobi manoeuvred well among these obstacles but was once trapped between one chair and the table.

The Koolvac handed the transition from hard floor to carpet with ease. Due to its powerful motor and large, rubber coated wheels, my forced air vents were traversed without problems. The Virobi cannot handle a carpet and will often become stuck when it attempts to cross over a vent. There is a spot in the corner of my kitchen where part of a tile has torn away—I’ll have to get that fixed one day. The tiny dip formed by the missing chunk of tile proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for the Virobi.

Cleaning Ability

Both units performed to specs. The Virobi picked up a great deal of pet hair and lint. If I had changed the electrostatic pad, it would have collected even more. The Koolvac, less fussy about what it shoved into its storage bin, swept the kitchen floor clean. There were several areas too tight for either unit, requiring the use of a broom and dustpan.

Final Conclusion

The main purpose of the Vileda Virobi is to deal with the accumulation of pet hair between regular vacuuming. It is quiet and will run up to two hours between battery charges. In my kitchen, which is robot friendly, the tiny sweeper worked fairly well. In other rooms the Virobi found itself trapped and stalled with monotonous regularity.

The disposable electrostatic pads collect cat hair and lint but would not pick up debris such as grit, kitty litter or crumbs from toast. Cleanup is simple, consisting of pulling the pad from the bottom of the device and depositing it into the garbage. If I were to use this machine as intended I suspect I would go through four electrostatic pads per week. This adds up about the cost of a small coffee at the local Tim Hortons.

Let’s do the math. The Vileda Virobi retails for forty dollars and, over the course of one year, you would purchase approximately seventy-five dollars worth of electrostatic pads. That works out to $115.00.

The Koolvac, which in my opinion is comparable to the cheapest modern robotic vacuum on the market, proved significantly more surefooted than the Virobi. Because of its sweeping action, a robotic vacuum can handle a greater variety of debris than a device that relies on an electrostatic pad. This type of unit is noisier than the Virobi. Disposal of debris and cleanup of the vacuum, while not overly taxing, is not as simple as with its competition.

The cheapest robotic vacuum available on Amazon retails for $130.00. If used often, you will probably be required to replace the side brush every year. I have not checked the cost of replacing a side brush for this particular unit but you can purchase a set of three side brushes for the irobot Roomba 800 series for eight dollars. Shipping costs would raise the total to seventeen.

Over one year, overall costs connected to the Vileda Virobi are slightly cheaper than that of one of the less expensive robotic vacuums. Over a two year period costs should prove similar. In my opinion the robotic vacuum is the better option. The unit will be noisier but, if the performance of my Koolvac is any indication, the robotic vacuum will prove itself more able to extract itself from tight situations than the Virobi. It will also sweep up and contain a greater variety of dirt and debris from your floors.

Tabletop Robot

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