Amazon will buy iRobot for $1.7 billion. The deal, which the companies announced Friday morning, will make the popular Roomba line of vacuum cleaners 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 through most of the 1990s trying to break into the toy game with a very real and terrifying robotic robot. my real doll (opens in new tab). iRobot, however, struck gold when it moved away from anthropomorphic bots and into the utility robot space, introducing its first Roomba vacuum robot in 2002.
The line grew from that initial, round, $199 robot to an entire line of Roombas, with most of them looking a lot like the original automated home helper. iRobot eventually branched out into robot gutter cleaners (the Looj (opens in new tab)) and robotic mops (the Braava Jet).
It also made some acquisitions of its own, snapping up Evolution robotics (opens in new tab)manufacturers of a competing Mint floor cleaning robot in 2012.
To date, iRobot has sold around 20 million robot vacuums.
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 range. There are smart speakers, outlets, watches, video calling screens and streaming devices. However, it does not offer an Amazon-branded robot vacuum.
In a statement on the acquisition, Senior Vice President of Amazon Devices, Dave Limp, said: “Customers love iRobot products – and I am excited to work with the iRobot team to invent ways that make customers’ lives easier and nice”.
Colin Angle, who will remain CEO (Greiner left the company years ago), said in the statement: “Amazon shares our passion for creating smart 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.”
What is the next
It will take some time for the deal to gain 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 updates that more deeply integrate Amazon’s Alexa into their existing Roomba robot vacuums and Bravaa Jet robot mops.
There may be some changes to the product line. It might decrease or, as has been Amazon’s way, we might see some new much lower cost iRobot Roomba robot vacuums, possibly with the Amazon branding attached to them. A Roomba that responds directly to voice commands seems possible.
iRobot, over the years, has done an impressive job of mapping the average household and this information can be useful for Amazon’s technology and wider product network. Not implying any sort of privacy issues here, but if every Amazon device in your house now knows your layout, then that could allow for new features and interactions.
It’s early days, of course, and for a while Amazon and the newly owned iRobot may operate separately for a year or so.
Still, this is a big moment for iRobot, the company that proved consumer robotics can be a real business, providing affordable home robotics that didn’t try to impress you with their looks or human antics, but did the dirty work that you didn’t want to do.