What do you get if you cross a security camera with a robot vacuum? Well, you get a robot vacuum with a camera on it, obviously. Meet the Jisiwei S+, a $400 mid-range autonomous vacuum cleaner that serves double duty as a home security cam. Sort of.
- 1080p wide-angle camera
- App control on local Wi-Fi or remotely
- Infra-red Remote
- 2600mAh battery
- Charging station
- Spare filter, mop head, side brushes and cleaning tool
- 35cm diameter, 92mm height
As well as the camera situated at the front, a further protrusion houses what I assume is an infra-red sensor used to navigate home. Combined, they add a significantly height to the device – while the main body is only 7cm, this rises to just over 9cm with those. It’s still short enough to enough to easily fit under beds, but you should measure up first.
Getting access to the camera and app controls requires the use of a cloud login account, though creating one is easy and there’s no fussy requirements for a strong password. It requires an active internet connection to work. The first time you bring up the main screen, you’ll get a badly translated dialog about “binding a device”, which means you need to add your robot to your account. This involves scanning a QR code on the back of the device (who would’ve thought – those little codes are good for something after all!), then telling it the password to your Wi-Fi network.
Unfortunately, if you have a particularly large house or thick walls and therefore need multiple Wi-Fi networks for full coverage, you’re out of luck, as it assumes you only have one. Switching between the two requires sticking a sharp object into the reset hole.
Both the app and remote can be used to move around, initiate cleaning, and send the device home to charge. The remote also has mode selectors, and a button for mopping (in which the suction is disabled). Oddly, the app can’t be used to set up scheduled cleaning – that must be done through the regular remote control. Point it at the device, set the clock, then set the planned cleaning time.
In Use: Vacuuming
As a vacuum, it performs much as expected and keeps the floor clean, mostly autonomously. However, I found a couple of major hiccups here.
Firstly, the wheels don’t have as much as height play in them as the iLife A4 model we previously reviewed. As you can see in the review video, this meant the Jisiwei S+ would sometimes get stuck on a thick rugs or the legs of our baby highchair.
Confounding the issue are the front sensors, which appear to only detect large objects – there’s no physical bumper, so while the more complex array of sensors works better for standard wall avoidance, a low wooden track around our cooker confused it, as did the wheels on our butcher’s block.
Second, it would sometimes fail to find it’s way home, and we’d find it dead in the utility room.
Thankfully the fall sensors work well, so there were no nasty accidents on the stairs. Like most autonomous vacuums though, black carpets are a no go; the fall sensors simply detect the lack of reflected light as a drop, and can’t move in any direction.
In Use: Security Cam
The camera feed offers 3 quality levels that essentially amounts to high quality, adaptive, or low quality, but they all look reasonably good on a small phone screen such that I couldn’t tell the difference. You can record or take pictures and these are saved to your device – and you can even listen in.
The manufacturers were unable to provide me with a URL to embed the camera feed elsewhere – it’s via the app only – but if you did a little packet sniffing you’d probably be able to find it.
Unfortunately, the nature of having the camera facing forwards, which is where the charging contacts are too, means that most of the time – that is, when it’s charging – the camera is facing the charger, so this is likely what you’ll see:
Of course, you can turn quickly take control remotely from anywhere and turn it around for a better view, but then it would stop charging, and the default idle position is in the charger, for obvious reasons.
The app also allows you set motion activated alerts, but this was should only be used when you’ve not at home, and when the device is not placed in the charger. During testing, I found the flashing LED from the charger actually triggered constant motion alerts; and even then, they didn’t appear use standard iOS notifications, so I only received alerts when the app itself was open and running in the foreground. Use of this therefore requires a conscious effort to remove (or drive) the robot away from the charger, open the app, and initiate the motion security features before going out.
On the local Wi-Fi network, operation was smooth and video streamed nicely. From a remote location with a 3G connection, it was difficult to navigate even through a door with any level of success: the lag between pressing the button on your phone and the robot moving is just too great, assuming it registers the press at all, which it sometimes didn’t. Of course, your experience will vary based on speed of your mobile connection.
With this in mind, the motion activated security features are simply ineffective. It’s still neat to have the camera and microphone – to log in remotely and see what’s going on – but certainly shouldn’t be relied upon for home security.
Should You Buy the Jisiwei S+?
The inclusion of a wide angle camera is a compelling idea that gives it an obvious dual purpose as a remote security camera that could actually chase an intruder around, but the practicalities of the device render it as a mere novelty. Then there’s the issue of interoperability with other smart home and security systems: standard IP webcams give you a URL and basic authentication, so you can embed and manipulate the video stream in any number of commercial and open source security systems, and furthermore don’t rely upon a cloud account. The Jisiwei S+ camera feed is only accessible through the app, and requires an active internet connection for initial authentication with the cloud servers. Hopefully they can be convinced to open this up, and kill the cloud account requirement, as I think this could be a killer feature if it wasn’t so restrictive.
As an autonomous vacuum, it functions well with a variety of modes and will get the job done, but suffers from the same limitations that plague other models too.
Of course, this all begs the question of whether you really a cloud connected camera in your robot vacuum at all, and if you don’t, there are cheaper options out there.
A neat idea, but consider how much value you place in having a camera and Wi-Fi app control, as there are cheaper options out there.