Amazon this morning announced plans to acquire iRobot for an all-cash deal worth $1.7 billion. The home robotics company, best known for pioneering the robotic vacuum cleaner, was founded in 1990 by MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab members Colin Angle, Rodney Brooks and Helen Greiner. Twelve years after its founding, the company introduced the Roomba, a brand that has since become synonymous with the brand, selling over 30 million units in 2020.
Brooks and Greiner went on to found and run several other companies, while Angle remained on board as CEO – a position he will retain after the acquisition.
“Since we launched iRobot, our team has been on a mission to create innovative, convenient products that make life easier for customers, leading to inventions like the Roomba and iRobot OS,” CEO Colin Angle said in a statement. communicated. “Amazon shares our passion for creating thoughtful innovations that empower people to do more at home, and I can’t think of a better place for our team to pursue our mission. I’m extremely excited to be part of Amazon and see what we can build together for customers in the years to come. »
Amazon has also aggressively moved into the robotics space in the decade since its acquisition of Kiva Systems, although the Amazon Robotics division is solely focused on its warehouse/fulfillment. More recently, the company has taken small steps into the home with the launch of Astro, a cheerful robot that doesn’t have the Roomba’s sole purpose.
“We know that saving time is important and that household chores take up valuable time that can be better spent doing something customers love,” Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices, said in the release. . “For many years, the iRobot team has proven its ability to reinvent the way people clean with incredibly convenient and inventive products, cleaning when and where customers want it while avoiding common obstacles around the home. , automatic bin emptying Customers love iRobot products and I’m excited to work with the iRobot team to invent ways to make customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable.
Amazon and iRobot have had an increasingly close partnership over the past few years, thanks to Roomba’s adoption of Alexa functionality and use of AWS servers. Angle, too, has often talked about Roomba — and home robots in general — as a kind of connective tissue for the smart home. “The house of the future is a robot,” he noted in an interview with TechCrunch. “And vacuum cleaners and other appliances are the hands, eyes and appendages of the domestic robot. Ultimately, this smart home of the future is not controlled by your mobile phone. If you have 200 devices, you’re not going to turn them on by pulling out your cell phone. We need a house that programs itself, and you just live in your house, and the house does what it needs to do based on the understanding of what’s going on.
The company has struggled to recapture the success of the Roomba, however, but not for lack of trying. He has experimented with several different home robot services, from cleaning gutters and swimming pools to mopping floors and mowing the lawn. The latter arrived in the form of Terra, which was put on hold indefinitely during the pandemic. This news came in April 2020, alongside news that the company had laid off 70 employees, or around 5% of its global workforce.
During a Spaces Twitter post last month, Angle told me about Terra’s final launch, “What we said in the last call is that we’re working on robots that don’t mop floors. Interpret this as you wish. Having Amazon’s enormous resources behind it will undoubtedly speed up its ability to launch non-Roomba systems. The company was also founded on such experimentation, having built everything from dolls to military machines before striking gold with Roomba.
The company spun off its military contract wing in 2016 as Endeavour, which was later acquired by FLIR Systems in early 2019. A year prior, iRobot created telepresence robotics startup Ava. iRobot has also made its own acquisitions, buying connected air purification company Aeris late last year, in a bid to diversify its home presence.
The acquisition is pending standard regulatory review. Companies will need to convince regulators – among others – that they maintain appropriate privacy safeguards. Amazon’s acquisition of Ring has raised all sorts of red flags for advocacy groups, and its possession of the world’s most popular home robot is sure to raise eyebrows. Recent versions of Roomba incorporate increasingly sophisticated sensors to create 3D maps of users’ homes.
The deal ranks among Amazon’s largest during what has been a particularly busy time for the retail giant. This follows recent massive deals for OneMedical and MGM. If it materializes, the acquisition could represent a watershed moment for home robotics. For a decade, Roomba (and the army of robot vacuums that followed) was the only truly mainstream home robot, as names like Anki, Jibo and Kuri failed to reach mainstream consumers. With the acquisition of iRobot, Amazon hopes to be able to do for the home what it has succeeded in doing with industrial robotics.
A decade after its acquisition of Kiva, Amazon Robotics is almost universally recognized as the warehouse and fulfillment robotics space amid a pandemic-fueled boom. Can his purchase of iRobot do the same for the home?