The Matic is a fully autonomous robot vacuum that its founders claim will clean your floors without getting stuck on cables or toys and without sending a map of your home to the cloud. And it’ll only cost you $1,800.
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The Matic is a new robot vacuum with a different approach to cleaning your floors. Built by two former Google Nest engineers, it’s designed to move around your home in the same way most humans would, processing things visually instead of spatially. It uses five RGB cameras to navigate, rather than the sensors, bumpers, and lidar tech found on most of today’s robot vacs. In theory, this makes it less prone to common robot vacuum pitfalls —such as high-pile rugs, cables, and tight spaces — because it can actually see where it’s going in real time rather than relying on a preprogrammed map. It also operates locally — with no cloud component at all. Mapping is done on the device, and it doesn’t require an internet connection to run, so your data should never leave your home.
Following initially launching as a subscription model earlier this year, Matic is now being sold outright. You can preorder it at maticrobots.com for the discounted price of $1,495 (regularly $1,795), with delivery planned for March 2024. I’ve not had a chance to see or test the new robot, but the demo footage I’ve seen has impressed me.
Matic has been in development for six years — since its founders, Mehul Nariyawala and Navneet Dalal, left Google Nest to put their combined experience in developing facial recognition and gesture detection at startup Flutter into tackling the problem of creating a truly autonomous home robot cleaner.
“We’re both dads, and I have a Golden Retriever, and we were just not impressed with the abilities of most robot vacuums to keep our house clean,” Nariyawala told The Verge in an interview. So they set out to build a better bot.
The key difference, says Nariyawala, who worked with Dalal on Google’s Nest Cam IQ cameras and Nest Hello doorbell, is that Matic creates a 3D-powered, street-view-like map of your home that, combined with on-device computer vision, allows it to maneuver around in the same way a self-driving car might traverse a city guided by Google Maps.
Instead of bumping into chair legs or sniffing at shoes as most robot vacuums do today, Matic glides around any clutter you leave on the floor as it switches between vacuuming up debris and mopping up spills. “Hardware has never been the bottleneck of robots; it’s the brains, the ability to map and navigate, go from point A to point B precisely, 10 out of 10 times that hasn’t been done before,” says Nariyawala. “That’s what we’ve solved.”
The Matic also doesn’t look like the circular robot vacs we’re used to. With a square, squat white body, big wheels, and a vacuum head that extends out, it’s more Wall-E than Roomba. It can also “mimic human perception and self-learning through cameras and Neural Networks that power image recognition, decision making, and 3D mapping,” said Dalal in a blog post.
This semantic understanding brings a higher level of AI-powered obstacle avoidance, the company claims, allowing it to navigate any object in your home on the fly. While competitors like iRobot and Ecovacs have AI-powered obstacle avoidance, Nariyawala says Matic can identify far more items than the competition, categorizing them into dirt, non-dirt, and unknown, the last two of which it will avoid.
Capable of both mopping and vacuuming, the Matic is also a wet / dry vac, so it can clean up liquid spills as well as dirt — something no other robot vacuum is capable of. Its computer vision allows it to identify different floor types and autonomously switch from vacuuming to mopping, says Nariyawala. It avoids mopping your carpets by vacuuming when going forward and then flipping its head down to mop when it moves backward.
Another unique feature is gesture commands. The Matic has a speaker and microphones on board and should be able to respond to commands such as “Matic, clean up there” or “Matic, go mop the bathroom.” It can also autonomously go out and find dirty areas of your home and clean them. According to Nariyawala, every couple of hours, it will roam around and seek out dirt. “Eventually, it will learn your preferences and know things like after dinner, it should clean the kitchen,” he says.
When its onboard bin is full, it goes and parks itself by your trash can and sends you an alert that it’s ready to be emptied. The bin is a small bag you pull out and throw away. It has a one-liter capacity that Matic says can hold up to a month’s worth of dust or a week’s worth of dust and liquid.
It’s also very, very quiet. Nariyawala claims Matic has the same efficacy as an upright vacuum but doesn’t get louder than 55db. That’s the quietest level of almost any robot vacuum I’ve tested, and none can get a carpet as clean as an upright can. The key here, according to Nariyawala, is that suction power isn’t as important as agitation and the capability of the brush roll to get up dirt. That theory is one that’s held up in my testing of robot vacs.
Two tank-like front wheels allow the Matic to go over high-pile rugs and room transitions without getting stuck, and its mopping pad is a roller mop inside the robot that squeegees itself clean so you don’t have to.
The robot doesn’t have a big docking station that empties its bin or refills its water tank, as is popular on most high-end robots today; you have to do that yourself. Instead, it carries around a 600ml water tank and a one-liter-capacity bin.
Matic has tried to make disposal as simple and mess-free as possible. Both liquid and dirt go into the same bag where “diaper crystals” absorb any liquid, and you just throw the sealed bag in the bin. An optional Matic membership ($15 a month) gets you a steady supply of bags, brushes, and mop rolls and guarantees you coverage for accidental damage.
Now that we’ve talked about the vacuum prowess, let’s look a little closer at how it actually works. With its AI-powered navigation and cleaning capabilities, Nariyawala says it can adapt to dirt and situations on the fly. If there’s a big stain on the floor, it will mop back and forth until it’s gone, and if it spots popcorn, it will slow down the roller head speed so as not to spray little white kernels all over the room. “When it sees rug tassels Matic will reduce suction power so it doesn’t suck them up,” he says.
The navigation system does use simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology, found on most high-end vacuums, but Nariyawala says the Matic has 10 times better implementation thanks to its semantic understanding powered by software algorithms and data processing on the edge.
Watching a demo of the Matic in action, its navigation skills remind me of Amazon’s Astro home robot, which also makes quick, autonomous navigation decisions. Both move more freely around your home than a robot vacuum, which tends to move in a straight line until it meets an obstacle and then has to readjust once it figures out what the obstacle is and what it should do about it.
On paper, the Matic does appear to address two of the biggest problems of today’s robot vacuums: getting stuck or lost and being too loud to get the job done. Even the smartest bots today can get foiled by obstacles like rug tassels or debris like popcorn, and every robot will get turned off by an annoyed family member trying to watch TV while it barrels through vacuuming as loud as a blender.
The way the Matic switches between mopping and vacuuming to avoid damp rugs is an interesting solution, but how effective it will be compared to the oscillating mop pads on some bots today remains to be seen. Its ability to suck up wet spills is a first, however. (Well, and keep functioning after it’s done so!)
Keeping everything local has a big appeal from a privacy standpoint. Currently, if you want to run a robot vacuum with no cloud connection, you lose its mapping abilities (unless you do a lot of hacking). The downside is this limits smart home integrations. There are no plans to support Amazon Alexa or Google Home at launch, although Nariyawala tells me they are exploring Matter integration down the line.
Even at the introductory price of $1,495, Matic is going to be a hard sell. The only other robot vacuum close to that price is the excellent Dreame L20 Ultra, but that is regularly on sale. Amazon’s Astro home robot costs $1,600 and doesn’t vacuum. But Nariyawala says this is Matic 1.0, “We’re taking a Tesla-like approach, introducing a high-end version with plans to bring more affordable models to market.”
With former Tesla engineers working for Matic and financial backing from Nest co-founder Matt Rogers, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and AI expert and ex-CEO of GitHub Nat Friedman (among others), the potential is definitely here. But whether this will all add up to a giant step forward in home robotics remains to be seen. I’ll have to get the Matic in my own home to test it before I can give any verdict, but the concept is intriguing and feels like a step closer to the Rosie the Robot of my smart home dreams.
Matic is available to preorder starting today at maticrobots.com for an introductory price of $1,495 (savings of $300) and includes a yearlong Matic membership ($180 value). Shipping is scheduled for March 2024.