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A robot vacuum sneaked into my house. It was a little fishy

This was all a very strange experience, but you may love it.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Narwal Freo robot vacuum on floor cleaning dirt and dust

A confession: I'm not entirely robot-positive.

I don't have a knee-jerk desperation to have my light switches controlled by external forces.

Other than, you know, electricity.

And I don't often believe a robot will automatically do something better than a human. In our house, we have a couple of HomePods. They're better at playing music than I am.

Other than my twin Siris, however, that was it for the longest time.

First a cat, then a descent into fish

For reasons that still remain murky, I recently weakened and a robot cat entered. This was an experience akin to plucking one's eyebrows with a corkscrew. Sadly, it was also an experience that hardened my arteries, but softened my ears.

One evening, a PR person of my acquantaince casually wondered whether I'd ever thought of getting a narwhal.

"Why would I want a large prehistoric bison?" I asked. 

No, I'm not very strong on the natural world. I can barely name a tree, never mind half the animals in the world. And somehow I thought a narwhal was a big, hairy, extinct thing with four legs and two tusks.

Also: Best Black Friday robot vacuum deals

"It's a unicorn fishy-mammal thing," my wife helpfully interrupted.

"Well, you finally let a cat into your house," mused the PR man. "Why wouldn't you let a fish?"

I could tell he was mocking me. I just couldn't tell why. It was then that he revealed we were talking about the Narwal Freo robot vacuum cleaner. Or, rather, he was.

"Why would I want a robot vacuum cleaner?" I asked.

"Because it's not made or owned by Amazon," he swiftly snorted.

And so it was that one of these Narwal Freos appeared at my house. Truly, I wasn't moved. My wife and I like to do a lot of our own cleaning. It's therapeutic, so she tells me.

It was reasonable, though, to wonder what people see in these things. I imagined it was just a something that looked like a steroidal hockey puck that wafted about the house, picking up my crumbs and mistargeted bits of proteins and potato chips.

The fish with a kennel

Unboxing this thing, however, reveals it has its own little home. It's as if Frank Gehry had designed a kennel for a dachshund.

Perhaps the most delightful element, though, were the instructions, which were blessedly simple. All right, they looked a little complex for me, but my wife is a scientist and she told me it was all very simple.

Now, for trying to get it to work. I noticed there was a round panel on the top of the kennel. I pushed on it and messages appeared.

For example: "Error 2006. Water outlet error of the clean water tank. Please check whether there is."

This naturally incited the question, "Whether there is what?"

Narwal Freo Robot Vacuum error message

Um, OK.

Chris Matyszczyk/ZDNET

Still, I poured in some water, downloaded an app that demanded to know my location, and then pressed a button that was perhaps called "Play" or something.

The Arnold Schwarzeneggerpuck emerged and began to waft around the floor.

Also: How to service your robot vacuum cleaner

I accept this is a fascinating sight. It wanders about, buzzes around, slides along the walls, and generally acts snoopy.

It wasn't prepared, however, for the fact that our living room has little steps. Watching it teeter to the brink and pull itself back just in time was oddly entertaining.

But, wait. It wasn't actually cleaning. I looked down at the app, which offered that it needed to scan my environment and send a map back to its owners overseas. Well, it didn't say all of that, but that was the impression left upon me.

When it was done, having avoided all the obstacles in its way, it slid back into its kennel. Was I expected to feed it as well as water it? It's hard work, this robot cleaning.

Too fishy for compliments?

I waited a day and then had the courage to ask it to mop. Well, this thing vacuums and mops at the same time. That's something I don't do. Because it's something I can't do.

But is it something I've ever wanted to do? Narwal's representatives tell me I don't have to worry about any of this, as the Freo makes its own decisions about the cleaninliness of the floor and the mop, thereby deciding whether a second mopping is required.

It even manages to keep the dry vacuuming and the wet mopping separate for idyllic cleaning.

This machine may excite you to avoid Amazon's data-sucking interference in favor of a Chinese company's data-sucking interference. A company that claims: "We advocate freedom and love." As well as: "Our mission is to help people live freely and passionately."

You may think the -- wait, how much? -- $1,400 is so worth it to have a robot buzz around your house and clean, while you put on your headphones and watch White Lotus.

I can't say I reached the same conclusion. 

Cleaning is, indeed, a pain. But I can't help thinking this particular robot -- well, almost all robots -- will end up being high-maintenance. It takes up quite a bit of space, too.

I fear there may, one day, be a huge shortage of robot maintenance engineers.

And what if finally it falls down the steps? It'll sue, right?

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