A robotic vacuum cleaner that works its way around buildings to clean independently may be used to share data on people’s homes.
Roomba, made by American consumer robotics leader iRobot, has been mapping out details of the interior of homes in order to be able to do its job without bumping into furniture.
Now iRobot is hoping to base its business strategy on using that data. iRobot chief executive Colin Angle said: “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.”
According to Angle, smart, internet connected devices, from thermostats to fridges, can already be found in many homes, but they don’t attempt to understand their physical environment. Roomba’s mapping technology and the data it accrues, he argues, is the next frontier.
After a slightly rocky year for iRobot, which saw a fall in share prices after a report highlighted a number of cheaper alternatives, the plan to move the company’s focus from purely cleaning products has been welcomed by investors.
Alphabet, Apple and Amazon are all reported to have shown interest. Managing partner of hedge fund Red Mountain Capital Willem Mesdag commented on the early advantage that iRobot has over its rivals. ‘I think they have a tremendous first-mover advantage. The competition is focused on making cleaning products, not a mapping robot.’
Some have questioned the privacy issue of sharing data on personal spaces with large corporations, even with explicit consent, suggesting that many will turn to cheaper alternatives in order to have a robotic cleaner without any of the security fears.
For now, however, iRobot, which launched in 1990 selling bomb disposal robots to the U.S military and moved on to domestic robotic vacuums in 2002, holds 88% of the U.S. ‘robovac’ market. If it sees investment from any of the interested giants, its fortunes seem likely to improve.
In response to this article and others, iRobot released a statement on its policy on sharing data. The statement reads:
“iRobot does not sell data customer data. Our customers always come first. We will never violate our customer’s trust by selling or misusing customer-related data, including data collected by our connected products. Right now, the data Roomba collects enables it to effectively clean the home and provides customers with information about cleaning performance. iRobot believes that in the future, this information could provide even more value for our customers by enabling the smart home and the devices within it to work better, but always with their explicit consent.”