duPont Hospital for Children and the University of Delaware
Vol. 2, No. 1 -- Fall 1996

Auto-Vac Design Team

By Bob Piech

The first Auto-Vac challenge came at my front door. The threshold of my door had a lip high enough to snag the vacuum. It took me 30 minutes to get the Auto-Vac through the doorway. At one point, I had the appliance wedged half in and half out, which had me wondering where I would be sleeping that night (since I was still outside at the time). Finally, though, it broke free. Since one of the tests of a home trial was to see whether a consumer could get the device home and set up, I should note that I needed someone to carry in and set up the charger/docking station.

My next hurdle was parking the apparatus. I parked the unit, shut off the transmitter and placed it near the Auto-Vac, and then shut off the receiver. The fact that I turned off the receiver after the transmitter caused the vacuum to lurch and block my access to the receiver. It was necessary to manually move the Auto-Vac out of the way, which, for someone who needs the convenience of a self-propelled machine, was all but impossible. Forty-five minutes of pushing and pulling yielded enough room to reach the receiver.

* The actual vacuuming session was completed without major mishap. Vacuuming via remote control was certainly effortless and mildly pleasant, though maneuvering often took more time and forethought than with a conventional vacuum cleaner. Some narrow and low clearance areas were just not reachable no matter how much positioning was attempted. I also became tentative about using the Auto-Vac, thinking that it might fail to respond remotely and I would have to move it manually.

My final vacuuming effort failed because of dead batteries. Leaving the Auto-Vac connected to the charger can result in battery discharge if the charger is not in an active charging mode. I had turned off power to the charger with a separate switch to serve as a safety precaution while asleep or out. I understand that it took a week to recharge the batteries.

The overall home test received a mixed review from me. I experienced several significant difficulties, but we have learned from these. I would suggest better orientation for future field testers. I suggest that we consider ways of addressing the ground clearance issue and add a quick-release clutch for easier manual movement. Perhaps a simple instruction sheet on operation and charging could be written for future testers.

For more information, check out the Auto-Vac Design Team Home Page.