Amazon will buy iRobot for $1.7 billion. The deal, which the companies announced Friday morning, will make the popular Roomba line of robotic vacuum cleaners part of the Amazon family and quickly move into deeper integration with Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant 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 get into the game with a very real and creepy robotic. My real baby doll (opens in new tab). iRobot, however, struck gold when it moved away from humanoid robots and into the utilitarian robot space, introducing its first vacuum robot Roomba in 2002.
The line has grown from that initial, round $199 robot to an entire line of Roombas, most of which look quite similar to the original automated home helper. iRobot eventually branched out into robotic gutter cleaners (the Looj (opens in new tab)), and robotic mops (the Braava Jet).
She has also made some acquisitions of her own, capturing Evolution robotics (opens in new tab)makers of a competitive floor-cleaning robot Mint, in 2012.
To date, iRobot has sold approximately 20 million robots.
iRobot joins Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, which has spent the past seven years creating a broad range of smart home technology, primarily under the Echo line umbrella. There are smart speakers, plugs, clocks, video call screens and streaming devices. However, it does not offer an Amazon-branded robot vacuum.
In an announcement about the acquisition, Amazon Devices SVP Dave Limp said, “Customers love iRobot products – and I’m excited to work with the iRobot team to invent ways that make customers’ lives easier and more pleasant”.
Colin Angle, who will remain CEO (Greiner left the company years ago), said in the announcement: “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 get regulatory and shareholder approval, which means nothing will change for Roomba users in the short term.
Assuming the deal goes through, Roomba users can, at the very least, look forward to software upgrades that more deeply integrate Amazon’s Alexa into existing Roomba robotic vacuums and Bravaa Jet robot mops.
There may be some changes in the product line. It may slim down, or, as has been Amazon’s way, we may see some new, much cheaper iRobot Roomba robot vacuums, possibly with the Amazon brand attached to them. A Roomba that responds instantly to voice commands seems possible.
iRobot has, over the years, done an impressive job of mapping the average home, and that information can be useful for Amazon’s wider network of technology and products. Not implying any sort of privacy issue here, but if all Amazon devices in your home now know its layout, this could enable new features and interactions.
It’s early days, of course, and for some time Amazon and the fledgling iRobot may be operating separately for a year or so.
Still, this is a big moment for iRobot, the company that proved consumer robotics could be a real business by delivering affordable home robots that didn’t try to impress you with their looks or human antics, but instead did the dirty work. work you do did not want to do.