Internet of Things

Roomba Once Was Blind, But Now It Sees

Roomba Once Was Blind, But Now It Sees
Image credit: iRobot

Automated device maker iRobot, which has sold 14 million robotic vacuums worldwide, just announced a major play for the Internet of Things with its Roomba 980, the company’s first connected vacuum with an affixed camera for smarter home navigation.

At a lofty press event yesterday in Manhattan, where CEO Colin Angle likened Roomba’s household cleaning expeditions to those of Lewis and Clark in their discovery of the Pacific Coast, the company positioned its latest Roomba as a foray into the connected home market -- which is expected to be worth $71 billion by 2018.

“iRobot is positioning itself not just to be the best vacuum in the world,” Angle said, “[but to] lead us toward a future where robots can do much more in service of humanity.”

If the old Roomba was blind, says Christian Cerda, iRobot’s SVP and general manager of Home Robots, the latest model -- priced at a hefty $899 -- can see.

Related: The Robot Battle of Your Childhood Dreams Is Actually Happening

As opposed to previous models, which could only clean two or three rooms and react to obstacles reflexively, the Roomba 980 uses sensors and cameras to build a map of its surroundings as it moves for a smarter cleaning job. A battery charge lasts up to two hours -- at which point the Roomba scoots back to its base, powers up and then gets back to work.

This is the first Roomba that is Wi-Fi-connected and can be operated by smartphones with a dedicated app to schedule cleanings, the company said.

Connectivity also means that iRobot collects data from its machines -- though the company is only “collecting average data” about cleaning performance and not videos or images, Cerda assures. “We have developed it against hacking, we have tested it against hacking,” he says, his voice trailing off, “but hopefully that will never happen.”

The company expects the 980 to become the most popular connected home product in the world within a year, Cerda said, at which point iRobot plans to bring connectivity to different devices beyond its beloved Roombas. 

Related: This Startup's Mission: A 3-D Printer in Every Home

Edition: December 2016

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