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Last Updated: Friday, 16 May, 2003, 06:50 GMT 07:50 UK
Robot cleaner hits the shops
The Trilobite at rest, Electrolux
This could soon be cleaning your carpet
A robot vacuum cleaner that cleans your carpets all by itself has gone on sale in the UK.

The autonomous, cordless machine uses ultrasound to avoid obstacles and to work out the most efficient route around a room it has been set to clean.

While other firms have shown off prototype robot cleaners, Electrolux is the first to put one into production.

Modelled on an ancient arthropod the Electrolux Trilobite is in stores from Friday and should cost around 999.

Clean sweep

Electrolux showed off one of the first versions of its Trilobite robot vacuum in 1997 on the BBC's Tomorrow's World popular science programme.

Like a bat, but unlike a trilobite, the 35cm-wide cleaner navigates by bouncing sound off its surroundings.

James Dyson and friend, Dyson Publicity
James Dyson is also working on a robo-cleaner
It uses ultrasound to avoid bumping into things such as table legs and animals. The sound system also helps it work out the dimensions of a room after which it computes the best route to cover all the floor space.

Magnetic strips must be placed at doorways and near stairs to act as invisible walls and stop it plunging to its doom down a flight of steps.

Electrolux said the Trilobite was completely autonomous and could easily be left alone to take care of cleaning carpets while its owners were out enjoying themselves.

"As it is completely independent, quick and efficient, the Trilobite clearly helps make life easier," said Patrick Le Corre, managing director of Electrolux floorcare UK.

The Trilobite has been on sale in some European nations for a few months.

The cleaner is powered by rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries and returns to its recharging station when it has finished cleaning a floor or has nearly run out of power.

A fully charged Trilobite can run for about 60 minutes between charges.

The Trilobite has three cleaning modes; normal, quick and spot.

In the normal mode it cleans along the walls first and then covers all open floor space. In quick mode it only does open floor space and in spot mode it concentrates on a single area.

The LED display will warn owners when the dust box needs emptying.

Cleaner clash

Electrolux said that the low profile of the cleaner, 13cm, means it can scoot under tables and beds to get the dust that vacuuming humans often miss.

Matshushita robot hoover, AP
An early robo-vacuum prototype
Husqvarna, another subsidiary of Electrolux, already sells two different models of robotic mowers that can trim the grass on a lawn all by themselves.

In contrast to the Trilobite the robot mowers require wires to be placed around the lawn edge to ensure they keep on the grass.

Cyclone vacuum inventor James Dyson is also working on a robotic cleaner that, so far, has yet to get beyond the prototype stage.

A spokeswoman for Dyson said the prototype was still being refined and no date was set for when it would go on sale.

In 2002 Matshushita unveiled another prototype robot vacuum that it too was refining and hoped to put on sale by the end of 2005.

A robot cleaner called Roomba has been available in the US since September last year, retailing for $199.99.

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