Author Isaac Asimov coined ‘The Three Laws of Robotics’ in his 1950 novel “I, Robot’ of which none specifically addressed vacuuming, as the sci-fi visionary didn’t foresee the Roomba.
It converges in the Friday (Aug. 5) news that Amazon is acquiring iRobot (the company, not the book or film) in a $1.7 billion all-cash deal as the eCommerce giant moves deeper into its quest to make robotic assistants, in this case for cleaning, a pillar of its smart home offerings.
In the announcement, Amazon Devices Senior Vice President David Limp said “We know that saving time matters, and chores take precious time that can be better spent doing something that customers love. Over many years, the iRobot team has proven its ability to reinvent how people clean with products that are incredibly practical and inventive — from cleaning when and where customers want while avoiding common obstacles in the home to automatically emptying the collection bin.”
Of the deal, iRobot Chairman and CEO Colin Angle said “Amazon shares our passion for building thoughtful innovations that empower people to do more at home, and I cannot think of a better place for our team to continue our mission.” Angle will remain as CEO.
Building the Smart Home, Piece by Piece
The acquisition marks the latest move into consumer robotics for Amazon, which introduced its Astro home robot last September and now making its way into the field. TechCrunch reported in May that “As part of Amazon’s Day 1 Editions program, the robot is a $1,000 invitation-only program with limited numbers of robots available, as the company is trying to get them into consumers’ hands with a question: How would you use this?”
While Astro is good at monitoring its environment — in this case, a home or dwelling — like a rolling Ring camera, it also plays music and has home healthcare applications, yet Amazon is still figuring out Astro’s ideal uses. Roomba’s are more straightforward: clean the floors.
Not only does Roomba navigate the house silently sweeping for dirt, but it also sweeps for data. Reuters reported that Roomba “collects spatial data on households that could prove valuable to companies developing so-called smart home technology.”
Companies like Amazon.
Astro is part of Amazon’s Day 1 Editions effort, an invitation-only program letting consumers sign up and try Astro and other smart home devices, noting that “If an item doesn’t reach its pre-order goal — it won’t be built and you won’t be charged. It’s low risk, high reward, and a whole lot of fun.”
Cleaning floors since 2002, Roomba doesn’t need that kind of guidance. An iRobot blog post notes that there is already an Amazon Alexa skill for iRobot products, so consumers can say “hey Alexa, vacuum the living room with Roomba” or “mop the kitchen” to iRobot’s Braava jet® 240 Robot Mop.
Speaking at The Future of Everything Festival in May, Limp said Amazon is focused on smart home robotics far more than any plans it may be mulling for ideas like the metaverse.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, Limp said, “I really do fundamentally believe, and I think it’s what we’re spending a lot of time on in my organization, that we want to enhance the here and now. I want to try and work on technologies that bring people’s heads up — get them to enjoy the real world.”
Amazon announced a $1 billion fund for robotics development in April — the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund — “that supports emerging technology companies through direct investments. It is part of our continued commitment to invest in and foster innovation, and to enhance the employee and customer experience,” the company said.