Amazon this morning announced the plan to acquire iRobot for an all-cash deal worth $1.7 billion. The home robotics company, best known for pioneering robotic vacuums, was founded in 1990 by MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory members Colin Angle, Rodney Brooks, and Helen Greiner. Twelve years after its founding, the company introduced Roomba, a brand that has become synonymous with branding, selling over 30 million units as of 2020.
Brooks and Greiner have gone on to found and lead several other companies, while Angle remains on the board as CEO – a position he will maintain following the acquisition.
“Since we founded iRobot, our team has been on a mission to create innovative, practical products that make our customers’ lives easier, leading to inventions like the Roomba and iRobot OS, “CEO Colin Angle said in a statement. “Amazon shares our passion for building thoughtful innovations that make it possible for people to do more at home, and I can’t think of a better place for our team to continue our mission. mine. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of Amazon and see what we can build together for our customers in the years to come.”
Amazon, too, has been actively addressing the robotics space in the decade since its acquisition of Kiva Systems, although the Amazon Robotics division is solely focused on warehouse/fulfillment operations. More recently, the company made small strides when it launched Astro, a fun bot with no single focus on Roomba.
“We know that saving time is important, and that housework takes up valuable time that could be better spent doing something customers love,” Amazon Devices SVP Dave Limp said in a release. onion. “Over the years, the iRobot team has proven its ability to reinvent the way people clean with incredibly practical and innovative products — from cleaning when and where customers want to while avoiding obstacles. Common obstacles in the home, come automatically emptying the collection bin. 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, through Roomba’s embrace of Alexa functionality and the use of AWS Server. Angle also often talks about the 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 devices are the hands, eyes, and appendages of the home robot. Finally, this smart home of the future is not controlled by your mobile phone. If you have 200 devices, you won’t turn them on by pulling out your cell phone. We need a self-programmed home, and you just live in your house, and the house does the right things based on understanding what’s going on. “
Still, the company struggled to recapture the success of the Roomba — but not for lack of trying. It experimented with a number of home robotic services ranging from cleaning gutters and pools to mopping floors and mowing lawns. The second came in the form of Terra, having been detained indefinitely during the pandemic. The news has arrived in April 2020along with the news that the company has laid off 70 employees, representing about 5% of the global workforce.
In a Twitter Spaces last month, Angle told me about finally launching Terra, “What we said on the latest call is that we’re working on robots that don’t mop floors. Please explain it as you please. “Having Amazon’s huge resources behind it would certainly accelerate its ability to launch non-Roomba systems. The company was founded on such experimentation, having built everything from baby dolls. to military machinery before reaching gold with Roomba.
The company spun off the military contracting wing in 2016 as Endeavor, which was further acquired by FLIR Systems in early 2019. A year ago, iRobot spun off from the teleportation robot startup. Instant, Ava. iRobot has also made its own acquisitions, acquiring the connected air purifier company Aeris late last yearin an effort to diversify its indoor presence.