Amazon announced plans to buy iRobot this morning in an all-cash deal valued at $1.7 billion. The home robotics firm best known for pioneering robot vacuums was founded in 1990 by Colin Angle, Rodney Brooks and Helen Greiner, members of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. 12 years after its establishment, the company introduced the Roomba brand, synonymous with the brand, and by 2020, more than 30 million units had been sold.
Brooks and Greiner went on to found and lead several other companies, while Angle served as CEO – a position he will continue to hold after the acquisition.
“Since we started iRobot, our team has been on a mission to create innovative, practical products that make customers’ lives easier, leading to inventions like Roomba and iRobot OS,” he said. “Amazon shares our passion for building smart innovations that enable more to be done at home, and I can’t think of a better place for our team to continue our mission. I’m excited to be a part of Amazon and see what we can build together for customers in the coming years.”
Amazon has been aggressively pushing into the robotics space for a decade since its acquisition of Kiva Systems, but its Amazon Robotics division focuses exclusively on the storage/fulfillment play. The company recently took a step home with the launch of Astro, a cheerful bot that isn’t just Roomba’s focus.
“We know that saving time is important and that household tasks can free up more time to do what customers love,” Amazon Devices SVP Dave Limp said in the release. “Over the years, the iRobot team has proven its ability to keep people clean with incredibly practical and innovative products that help customers clean when and where they want, avoid common household obstacles and automatically empty the litter box. Customers love iRobot products, and I look forward to working with the iRobot team to make our customers’ lives easier and more enjoyable.”
Amazon and iRobot have had a closer partnership over the past few years with Roomba’s adoption of Alexa functionality and the use of AWS servers. Angle also talked about Roomba and home robots in general as a kind of connective network for the smart home. “The house of the future is a robot,” he told TechCrunch. “Vacuum cleaners and other appliances are the hands and eyes of the home robot. Finally, this smart home of the future is not controlled by your mobile phone. If you have 200 devices, you’re not going to pull out your mobile phone and open them. We need a home that programs , and you just stay in your house and do the right thing based on your understanding of what’s going on.”
However, the company has struggled to replicate Roomba’s success, but for lack of trying. It has been experimenting with a number of different robotic services, from cleaning ditches and pools to mowing floors and mowing lawns. The latter came in the form of Terra, which was placed in limbo during the pandemic. In April 2020, the company announced that it was laying off 70 employees, representing 5% of its global workforce.
Amazon’s home robot Astro
On Twitter last month, Angle told me about the eventual launch of Terra: “What we said in the last call is that we are working on a robot that does not clean the floor. Explain it how you want”. Having Amazon’s vast resources behind it will accelerate its ability to run non-Roomba systems. The company was founded on such experimentation, building everything from baby dolls to military vehicles before striking gold with the Roomba.
The company spun off its military contracting wing in 2016 as Endeavor, which was acquired by FLIR Systems in early 2019. A year ago, iRobot launched its telepresence robot startup Ava. iRobot acquired connected air purification company Aeris late last year in an effort to diversify its indoor portfolio.
This acquisition is pending a review of customs regulations. Companies must satisfy regulators that, among other things, they comply with applicable privacy laws. Amazon’s acquisition of Ring has raised all kinds of red flags for advocacy groups, and ownership of the world’s most famous robot will almost certainly raise eyebrows. The latest version of Roomba has more advanced sensors to build a 3D map of the user’s home.
The deal marks the largest listing on Amazon, an increasingly active time for the retailer. Following the recent collective bargaining agreement for OneMedical and MGM. If so,