Tech Lab Plus

Window cleaning robot was a hit at CES

Winbot window cleaning robot, by Ecovacs Inc.

Due for release later this year; price not announced

Designed and built in China, this remarkable robot was a major hit at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Slap it onto a pane of glass and it goes to work like Spider-Man with a scrub brush. But cool as it is, the Winbot struck me as fairly ­impractical.

A user first pours a cleaning solution onto an absorbent pad on the base of the Winbot. The robot uses an air suction system to cling to the surface of the glass and a pair of caterpillar treads to propel itself across the pane. The moist pad loosens up the dirt and a squeegee wipes away the residue.

So far so good. But while the Winbot seemed quite capable of tidying up a single big pane of glass, it wouldn’t be much help on the kind of multi-pane windows found in many homes. You’d have to remove and reattach it to each section of the glass. That would be a tough job, especially on the second floor. While you’re up there, you might as well wash the windows yourself.


No doubt about it; the Winbot is an impressive technical achievement, and it might make sense for buildings with large single-pane windows. But for now, I’d say human window cleaners have little to fear from this robot.

Nio security device for Apple iPhones and iPads

$59.95; set to go on sale by February at

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You shouldn’t let your iPhone or iPad out of your sight, but we all lose track now and then. Here’s a cool new product that will warn you if your favorite digital device has gone astray.

The Nio is a keyfob with a built-in Bluetooth radio. You just pair it up with the iPhone or iPad, and install a free Nio software app.

Now when the phone and the fob get too far apart, you’ll hear about it. You can set the fob to sound an alarm and vibrate whenever the device goes out of range.

For that matter, you can have the iDevice make noise, as well.


That means that you can clip a Nio to your purse, luggage, or laptop bag.

If you leave them at the airport food court, your iPhone will remind you to go back for them.

The Nio is a little expensive at $60, but it could easily save you from losing property worth considerably more.

Charge Card USB smartphone sync cable for iOS or Android devices

$25 at

It’s a familiar problem: You’d love to swap some data between your smartphone and a computer, but you left your USB sync cable at home. A brother and sister in California have come up with a superb solution: a USB cable the size of a credit card.

The Charge Card is made of rugged plastic. It’s shaped like a Visa card or MasterCard, except for a tab that sticks out on one side. This tab will plug into an Android or iPhone, depending on which model you buy. For now, the Charge Card doesn’t offer a version that’s compatible with the Lightning connector on newer Apple devices, but it will work with all older iPhones, iPads, and iPods.


At the center of the card is another tab that folds out. This is the part that fits the a standard USB slot on a computer. Just plug it in and off you go.

Charge Card is the sort of product that makes you kick yourself for not thinking of it. It’s one of the best phone accessories I’ve seen in quite awhile — simple, designed well, and profoundly useful.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at