Amazon, iRobot and the Slow Rise of Home Robotics » Enrique Dans

IMAGE: Onur Binay - Unsplash

Amazon announcement the acquisitionfor $1.7 billionof i robotthe company that makes the famous Roombathe leader in vacuum cleaners in the home robotics segment.

iRobot is no newcomer to this environment: a thirty-two-year-old company, founded in 1990 by three MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab alumni, Rodney Brooks, Helen Greiner there Colin Angle, the only one who remains in the company and who will remain CEO after the acquisition. Originally, the company designed and manufactured military roboticsbut the success of the first Roomba, manufactured in 2002 and which sold more than thirty million units, led it to sell its military business in 2016, which still operates under the Endeavor Robotics brand and was recently acquired by FLIR Systems.

What makes Amazon interested in a company like iRobot? Basically, his interest in a field, that of robotics, which he dominates in terms of logistics tasks in his warehouses with Amazon Robotics after acquisition of Kiva Systems in March 2012 for $775 million, but has an interest in extend to home settings, precisely where iRobot is a leader. The development in this direction of Amazon, astrois an “Alexa on wheels” shaped robot that is looking for features.

What’s interesting with iRobot? Basically years of experience developing micro-mapping systems, maps of the homes their Roomba are operating in, years ago protagonists of a controversy when it was suggested that it might market them to other companies, along with algorithms to avoid collisions or detect obstacles. Many of these functions are also grouped within their own operating system, iRobot operating system. But beyond discussing if it supposes a threat to the privacy of Roomba users If your home plans are now in the hands of Amazon, you have to consider what a breakthrough this could be for a company like iRobot, which has a proven track record in product development (the Roomba is definitely its most succeeded, but much less the only onewith developments ranging from floor cleaning to lawns or swimming pools) but crossed some financial difficultiesif you can now be relatively indifferent to this aspect thanks to Amazon support.

What products can emerge in the domestic sphere thanks to such an acquisition? Domestic tasks related to housekeeping are particularly difficult to automate: work that combines heavy tasks like vacuuming or washing dishes with other detailed tasks like dusting or cleaning, without getting into others like cooking, ironing or a bed. In some of these areas, iRobot already has competitors like Neato, Roborock, SharkNinja, wyze and others, but others are still completely underdeveloped. According Dave Boxof Amazon Devices, the intentions of the acquisition are precisely around the development of functionalities in the domestic sphere, not in that of its warehouses or in that of the logistics functions, which leads us to reflect on the use of intelligence ambient that allows the knowledge of domestic environments.

The acquisition is still awaiting the approval of iRobot’s shareholders and the regulator, who will have to assess, in an environment increasingly hostile to this type of operation, to what extent it represents an excessive concentration of the market and how aspects are protected related to user privacy.

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