The Roomba robotic vacuum has been whizzing across floors for years, but its future may lie more in collecting data than dirt. That data is of the spatial variety: the dimensions of a room as well as distances between sofas, tables, lamps and other home furnishings. To a tech industry eager to push'smart' homes controlled by a variety of Internet-enabled devices, that space is the next frontier. Smart home lighting, thermostats and security cameras are already on the market, but Colin Angle, chief executive of Roomba maker iRobot Corp, says they are still dumb when it comes to understanding their physical environment. He thinks the mapping technology currently guiding top-end Roomba models could change that and is basing the company's strategy on it.
The maker of the Roomba robotic vacuum, iRobot, has found itself embroiled in a privacy row after its chief executive suggested it may begin selling floor plans of customers' homes, derived from the movement data of their autonomous servants. "There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared," said Colin Angle, iRobot's boss. That possibility has led to a shift in direction from the company technologically. While all of the housecleaning robots in its range are capable of navigating around a room, only the most advanced machines it makes do so by creating a mental map of the space; its dumber bots simply move almost randomly until they're pretty sure they've covered the whole area. Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of the Big Three – Amazon, Apple and Google's Alphabet – in the next couple of years.
The makers of the Roomba are looking to sell consumers' home floor plans. Two years ago, Roombas unboxed and placed on floors across the country began coming with cameras. Those cameras, aided by new sensors, let the robovacs quietly build maps of users' homes to aid its cleaning duties. Now, the CEO behind the brand that claims 88% of the robovac market plans to sell those maps to companies that can incorporate the data into smart home technologies -- and make a tidy profit in the process. "There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared," Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot, told Reuters.
While iRobot may have originated as a bomb-disposal robot maker at MIT in 1990, the company is probably better known as a robot vacuum company. So much so that it has taken to suing competitors like Bissell and Hoover, who sell their own robotic vacuum cleaners. The Roomba craze may not be as popular on the internet anymore, but iRobot reportedly has a new strategy in place: providing Roomba-gathered maps of your home to other smart device makers. The CEO of iRobot, Colin Angle, tells Reuters that the "smart" home lighting, thermostats and security cameras currently on the market are all still pretty dumb when it comes to knowing what your home layout is. "There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared," Angle told Reuters.
SharkNinja, a well-known marketer of home consumer products, has entered the American robotic vacuum market with a product that is priced to compete against iRobot's Roomba line of floor cleaners. It sells at a very favorable price point to iRobot's. SharkNinja has partnered with ECOVACS, a Chinese manufacturer of many robotic products including robotic vacuums and floor cleaners, to custom manufacture the new Shark ION Robot – thus SharkNinja isn't starting from scratch. On Singles Day (11/11/2016), online via the e-commerce giant Alibaba, ECOVACS sold $60.2 million of robotic products, up from $47.6 million in 2015. The star performer was a DEEBOT robotic vacuum which sold 135,000 units.