Monday, August 29, 2011

Neato XV-11 Dustbin Computer

The long anticipated Dustbin Computer is here!  Or maybe not anticipated at all, either way see the video below.

Here are the close-up pictures and descriptions I promised...

Above, Used CNC mill to cut opening in the top of the dustbin for the Chumby's screen. Not sure what I will display, but an LCD kicks up the cool factor so I had to have it!  Note, added power button after taking this pic as seen in video.

 Opening in the bottom right for the small fan to cool everything, fan draws from the outside and pulls into the dustbin. This is the "clean" side of the robot, if I pulled air out of the dustbin here I would be pulling in dirt from the roller in the front. Opening in the bottom left is for the cable that will power the unit.  Notice I cut the hole bigger in the video.

 Another view of small fan and opening. I used some Thin CA glue used to glue RC car tires on the filter which hardens it like fiberglass.

 Bottom view, you can see the Chumby main board in the middle and at the very top stuck on the side is the wireless USB nic. The big white USB connector is what connects the Dustbin computer to the XV-11. I routed this cable through the XV-11 to the USB connection on the main board, and directly to the input battery connector (~14.4V). I did not intend to use a USB connector but it was all I had laying around last night and I wanted a connector that would fit through the plastic hole inside the XV-11 so I could remove the main board without desoldering connections.

The small black shrink wrapped component on the top right of the Chumby main board is a DC/DC converter used to convert the 14V to 5V to power the Chumby. Since the Chumby draws about 500mA at times with the screen running I did not want to tap off of the XV-11's 5V (if it even has 5V) and possibly over tax their design.  DC/DC Converter

 Here it is inside the XV-11 displaying its IP address, ready to connect to ROS and map my room!!

 Full shot of the XV-11, pretty clean mod I think.

 Connections on the XV-11 main board which are routed through the XV-11 and used for power/communications with Chumby.

 White USB cable (thank you Steve Jobs) routed along Neato cable path and to the hole under main board used for connector that plugs into large vacuum blower fan. I had to notch this hole slightly to make the cable fit through cleanly and still maintain a sealed connection to avoid having the vacuum draw air from this point.

Cable coming into the dustbin compartment. When the dustbin computer is not used I just tuck this cable back into the fan compartment. I soldered my own USB connector onto the cable to keep the connector small. This connector fits through the XV-11 plastic so i can pull the XV-11 apart and main board off if needed without desoldering anything.

Thanks for checking out the post, let me know if you have any suggestions for more XV-11 experimentation!


  1. Hash, really like what you have done with the Neato Bot. Do you know anyone who is willing to sell their Neato used? One would be interested in getting hold of the device you have built or even rebuilding it on one's own.

  2. AO, Thank you! I have checked Ebay for used or broken XV-11's but have not seen many. Right now it looks like you have to spend the $399 to get one... If you can convince the parents or spouse to let you get one you can promise them it'll still work as a vacuum!! :)

  3. Brilliant. Far and away better than what I was thinking of for creating a Xbee link back to the home PC. I may try something similar with a Raspberry Pi.

  4. Tim, that Raspberry Pi board looks sweet... I hope the pricing stays as low as they intend. I plan on creating a nice Python app to demo all the XV-11's functionality and make it work over a USB or wifi connection. Definitely let me know if you work on a dustbin computer as well. Check out too, wiki I setup so we can document things!

  5. Apologies if this is embarrassing you (one knows it is embarrassing me) but how does one get the skill set you possess ? what is your educational background ? where did you learn how to do this (work, school?)?

  6. As an aside would you also comment on : how would one go about reconstructing just the LIDAR unit? or improve upon it? One is interested in the bot and understands how wonderful it is but one wished to use the LIDAR with other platforms (separately, preferably).

  7. Your project is awesome! Nice craftmanship and very ingenious.

    Where did you get the spare dust bin?

    Also, does the serial connection use something like the FTDI chip od does it go directly to the MCU?

  8. Hash, It would be interesting to see a demonstration of neato interacting with the lidar and sensors and engaging in basic locomotion like forward backwards etc. I know xevel implemented SLAM using the LIDAR but was wondering if you could put up something that outlines how we can interact with the device to encourage it engage in basic motion. Has anyone even done that yet?

  9. Carlos - Thanks for the complement! Neato sells the dustbin as a "spare item" on the website along with filters. When I ordered it I had to wait a few weeks to get it but I believe they have them in stock now.

    I connect directly from the USB port of the Neato to the USB port on the Chumby, no other conversion in-between. The Neato shows up as /dev/ttyUSB0 in the Chumby file system. See one of my previous blog posts in interfacing with the Chumby. The post is kind of long but all the details are in there to duplicate.

  10. GRE - I agree, there is quite a bit of activity out there but most is very hard to replicate for an average user or someone just starting in robotics. I have used ROS ( to navigate around my house using the SLAM stack they provide. Setting up ROS is a task in itself and getting any results that impress a normal human being is tough to say the least! :)

    My plan is to write an application using Python so an average person with a short video can connect their Neato to their computer and see the laser data on their screen, control the robot and see sensor data. All pretty and graphical so it provides some instant gratification! Then people can play around and maybe expand on it or create something cooler!

  11. A O - I'm 32 years old and have been taking apart things since I was old enough to take my dads screw driver! 95% of what I have learned has been on my own, I took a couple college classes in electronics but college did not really hold my attention. My mind tends to run in a bunch or directions and I have to satisfy it or it drives me crazy!

    I learned quite a bit with the first real job I got at a small company that manufactured telecom equipment. I started as a tech and the owner let me work half days, either the first 12 hours or the second 12! :)

    Small companies are great for learning because if you are hungry they will generally give you a shot no matter if you have a degree or not, they value results. I literally worked like crazy there for 3 years, went from tech to CAD using Protel to lay out schematics and then lay out PC Boards. Wrote all the setup software for the pick and place machines that built the boards. Had full access to their EMI lab that we built to test radiated emissions and improve my circuit designs to pass, etc.

    Getting a job and showing people you are hungry to learn is a good way to learn FAST! I also had no equipment when I was younger, now I have oscilloscopes and a spectrum analyzer and just about everything you can think of. All of this equipment helps you analyze someone else's work to see what openings they may have left in or protocols they use.

    Work on learning how to design your own circuit or how a micro controller works, the more you learn about how to build something then the greater your understanding will be about how someone else designed THEIR system. All of this stuff is the same, same engineers out there reading the same books, educated at the same schools, reading the same blogs. It's all standardized for a reason, some times it's so a production department has a way to perform a final test of the system, or for pulling diagnostic information upon customer returning an item.

    Neato intentionally made it easy, that's why I could type "help" and it responded... :) I'm sure they have other secrets I haven't found yet, that's the fun part!! I've only found what they WANTED me or someone else to find, now it's time to find the other stuff...

  12. A O - As for the LIDAR, taking the unit out of the Neato is pretty easy actually, you can connect it to an FTDI chip like Carlos mentioned. You have to control the voltage used to spin the LIDAR unit because it needs to spin at a pretty precise rate or the unit will refuse to output data.

    Building your own LIDAR from scratch is a whole other challenge. I am tempted to really start pulling my LIDAR unit apart and mess with it but if I screw it up (which can happen no matter how good you get) then I'm out $400 for another vacuum :)

    Maybe after I write an app so others can have fun with their Neato and maybe get others excited to work on the robot I will tear into the LIDAR.

    Check out too. It's a wiki I created so anyone who wants can join and contribute information about the XV-11.

  13. And finally I'm not saying quit school and get a job... Just because that has worked for me doesn't mean it'll work for everyone. As my wife will tell you, I'm borderline insane when it comes to how hard I am driven by a problem I haven't solved yet. When everyone was working on hacking the LIDAR around thanksgiving I disappeared into my lab from the moment my Neato arrived until I had figured it out. Came out to sleep for a couple hours and food.

    Find out what makes you THAT passionate that you'll drop everything and you'll have people posting on your blog asking how YOU did something! :)

  14. Beautiful work and a great idea of using bin for hardware! But do you really have to have fan in the bin? It is loud plus chumby or wifi card dont have any air cooling in their original applications, so I assume they should tolerate heat. Also for those who don't want to hard wire USB cord is it possible to connect bin module via neato USB port, will it provide power through USB? It may not look super clean but you won't void warranties, etc. I think neato should hire you to develop optional bin modules let's say remote security that would have motion sensor, camera, and would be connected to the net via wifi. It would be cool to control robot via net on your smart phone. This way people don't have to have your skills to do this, just buy optional hardware and plug it in. I think neato should consider including wifi, motion, and camera in their next models. Technology overtime becomes more advanced and has lower price tag. Anyhow you showed great workmanship and ideas. I hope your wife tolerate your obsession;)

  15. gorman79 - Thank you! I actually thought a fan would not be necessary when I began the initial mod of my Chumby. I assumed as you did that since a fan was not needed in the original design that mine would not need a fan either.

    What I failed to realize until after my mod is that there is a lot of metal in contact with the wifi module. There is the USB connector that is plugged into another board and then that board plugs into the main Chumby board. The USB connector is soldered to the ground plane of the wifi module which all acts as a big heat sink. When I removed the USB connector from the wifi module I essentially removed a huge heat sink and the board would overheat in under 10 minutes and the Chumby would drop off the wireless network! I have solved similar problems with USB wifi modules in the past that were poorly designed consumer devices. I pointed a small fan at the wifi module and problem disappeared.

    Anyone could just connect the Chumby to the USB as you suggest, they just need to power the Chumby separately via battery, power is not supplied from the USB connector. They could just double stick tape the Chumby to the top of the Neato and be good to go.

    I like your ideas about different bin modules, and I really want to create some things that anyone can use to learn, experiment, and have fun. You never know what someone will come up with if you spark their interest...

    I appreciate all the comments, as I post more stuff feel free to let me know where they stand on the scale of "Easy" to "Stupid Hard" to duplicate. Hopefully my interface app I write soon will allow anyone who see's the video to use it.

  16. Hey Hash, great article you've written here. I'll be getting my Neato through in the next couple of weeks, and although it will be doing a certain amount of vacuuming - I certainly want to hack around with it!

    The road you went down here with a Chumby is principally what I was planning to do with RaspberryPi instead. I took a look at ROS and concluded it was a bit much for my amateur skills.. How far did you get with the python project? I'm a programming guy with an interest in robots, but I'm not an electronics guy by any stretch.

    Anyway, I'm interested in working on a python control project for it much like you described above. Maybe we can collaborate via github or something.

    1. Great idea!! Send me an email ( and lets make it happen! I'm more of an electronics guy than a programmer so I would be happy to assist with any hardware related questions if you can bring the programming expertise. I wanted to get the Python program going but haven't found time. Right now I am working on getting my CNC Mill all dialed in so I can replicate some components of the LIDAR.

      Always looking to work with great people though! Check out as well and sign up, I run that site for documenting work on the Neato XV-11.

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