Amazon buys iRobot for $1.7 billion. The deal, which the companies announced Friday morning, will make the popular Roomba line of robot vacuums part of the Amazon family and accelerate deeper integration with Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa and the company’s smarthome ecosystem.
Founded in 1990 by MIT roboticists Colin Angle and Helen Greiner, the company struggled for most of the 1990s, trying to break into the toy game with an all-too-real and creepy robot. My real baby doll (opens in new tab). However, iRobot struck gold when it moved away from anthropomorphic bots and into the utility robot space, introducing its first Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner in 2002.
The line has grown from that first, $199 round robot, to a whole line of Roombas, most of which are quite similar to the original automated household helper. iRobot eventually branches into robotic gutter cleaners (the Looj (opens in new tab)), and robot mops (the Braava Jet).
It has also done some acquisition of its own, Taking up evolution robotics (opens in new tab)makers of a competitive Mint floor cleaning robot, in 2012.
To date, iRobot has sold approximately 20 million robotic vacuum cleaners.
iRobot joins Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, which has spent the past seven years building a wide range of smart home technologies, mostly under the umbrella of the Echo line. There are smart speakers, outlets, clocks, video call screens, and streaming devices. However, it does not offer an Amazon-branded robot vacuum cleaner.
In a release about the acquisition, Amazon Devices SVP Dave Limp said, “Customers love iRobot products — and I’m excited to work with the iRobot team to devise ways that make customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable.”
Colin Angle, who remains as CEO (Greiner left the company years ago), said in the release: “Amazon shares our passion for building thoughtful innovations that empower people to do more at home, and I can’t think of a better place for our team to continue our mission.”
It will take some time for the deal to be approved by regulators and shareholders, meaning nothing will change for Roomba users anytime soon.
Assuming the deal goes through, Roomba users can at least anticipate software upgrades that integrate Amazon’s Alexa more deeply into their existing Roomba robot vacuums and Bravaa Jet robot mops.
There may be some changes in the product line. It may be slimming down, or, as is Amazon’s way, we may see some new, much cheaper iRobot Roomba robot vacuums, possibly Amazon-branded. A Roomba that responds instantly to voice commands seems possible.
iRobot has done an impressive job mapping the average home over the years, and that information could be useful to Amazon’s wider technology and product network. This doesn’t imply any kind of privacy issue, but having all Amazon devices in your home now knowing the layout could allow for new features and interactions.
It’s still early days, of course, and for a while Amazon and the new iRobot could operate separately for a year or so.
Still, this is a big moment for iRobot, the company that showed that consumer robotics can be a real business by providing affordable home robotics that didn’t try to impress you with their looks or human antics, but instead did the dirty work you did. didn’t want to do.