SoftBank has just taken a small stake in Roomba maker, iRobot, boosting their stock 22%, to a market value of $2.4B.
Wait, are you telling me the vacuum equivalent of Dippin’ Dots is worth billions of dollars?
Yep. As it turns out, the “robovac” has a lot more to offer than sucking skittles out of your shag.
Battle of the dust-busters
Founded in 1990 by MIT robotics engineers, iRobot actually started by building bomb disposal robots for the US Army.
However, since launching their first consumer product in 2002, they’ve grown to acquire 88% of the “robovac” market and dropped their bomb division last year as consumer applications comprised 99% of their $660m revenue.
And after accumulating over 1k patents covering things like self-navigation and general object avoidance, they’ve developed a secret weapon over their smart-vacuum competitors like Bissell or Hoover…
Mapping your house
2 years ago, iRobot added a camera and software that allows the Roomba to map its surroundings — maps they can then sell to makers of smart home devices.
Why would Amazon be interested in your floor plan? Well, as CEO Colin Angle puts it, “smart home” devices are still pretty “dumb” when it comes to knowing where they are in your home.
Better spatial awareness could allow smart sound systems to adjust to home acoustics, air conditioners to “schedule airflow by room,” or lights to “change according to window position” and time of day.
“I went to Sharper Image, and all I got was this lousy spy cam”
You may be thinking of the obvious obstacle here: people might not exactly be stoked about a robot recording inside their homes.
Angle says that they won’t sell user data without explicit permission, but seems confident that most people will be cool with it — provided it gives them access to sweet smart home features.