iRobot Corporation
Company typePublic
NasdaqIRBT
IndustryRobotics
Founded1990; 34 years ago (1990), Delaware,Washington, U.S.
Founders
HeadquartersBedford, Massachusetts, U.S.
Key people
Products
RevenueDecrease US$891 million (2023)
Decrease US$−264 million (2023)
Decrease US$−305 million (2023)
Total assetsDecrease US$734 million (2023)
Total equityDecrease US$196 million (2023)
Number of employees
1,113 (December 2023)
Websiteirobot.com
Footnotes / references
[1]

iRobot Corporation is an American technology company that designs and builds consumer robots. It was founded in 1990 by three members of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, who designed robots for space exploration and military defense.[2] The company's products include a range of autonomous home vacuum cleaners (Roomba), floor moppers (Braava), and other autonomous cleaning devices.[3]

A planned takeover deal by Amazon.com for US$1.7 billion, announced in August 2022, collapsed in January 2024 amid antitrust scrutiny by the European Commission.[4]

History

iRobot was founded in 1990 by Rodney Brooks, Colin Angle, and Helen Greiner after working in MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab. In 1998, the company received a DARPA research contract which led to the development of the PackBot.[5]

In September 2002, iRobot unveiled its home robots flagship, the Roomba, which went on to sell a million units by 2004.[6] iRobot began being traded on the NASDAQ in November 2005, under ticker symbol IRBT.[7] On September 17, 2012, iRobot announced that it had acquired Evolution Robotics, manufacturer of automated floor mopper Mint.[8]

In addition to deployment as bomb-disposal units with the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, PackBots have been used to gather data in dangerous conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster site,[9] and an iRobot Seaglider detected underwater pools of oil after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.[10] In February 2016, iRobot announced that it would sell its military robotics business to Arlington Capital Partners, in order to focus more on the consumer market.[11]

In November 2021, iRobot announced that it had acquired Aeris Cleantec AG, a Swiss air purifier manufacturer. iRobot began selling Aeris-designed air purifiers through its own brand in 2022.[12] iRobot has sold more than 30 million home robots, and has deployed more than 5,000 defense & security robots, as of 2020.[13]

Attempted acquisition by Amazon (2022–2024)

On August 5, 2022, Amazon announced its intent to acquire iRobot in a deal worth US$1.7 billion. The deal was subject to federal approval from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other regulatory agencies.[14] In September 2022, the FTC requested more data from both companies, amid concerns about Amazon's market power and the privacy implications of it gaining information about consumer floorplans.[15]

In June 2023, the UK's Competition and Markets Authority cleared the acquisition, saying it wouldn't lead to competition concerns in the country. [16] The European Commission launched a formal investigation into the proposed purchase in July 2023, citing that it would "allow Amazon to restrict competition in the market for robot vacuum cleaners ('RVCs') and to strengthen its position as online marketplace provider."[17] In July 2023, Amazon reduced the offer price to $1.42 billion after iRobot raised $200 million in new debt to fund its daily operations.[18]

In January 2024, Amazon and iRobot announced they would end their plans to merge in the face of opposition from EU antitrust regulators.[4] This resulted in Amazon paying iRobot a $94 million reverse breakup fee, iRobot laying off 31 percent of its employees, and CEO Colin Angle departing.[19]

Current home robots

Roomba

Main article: Roomba

Roomba 805 on its charging dock

Roomba is an automated vacuum cleaning robot first released in 2002. Roomba is powered by a rechargeable battery, and many models are available with a docking station to which the Roomba should return to recharge at the end of its cleaning cycle. They work in conjunction with accessories that use both IR and RF.

The company intentionally allows customers to hack the robot because they want people to experiment and improve the product. The API for the serial has been published and the serial port made easily accessible to make modifications easy to perform.[20]

In 2015, iRobot released an updated Roomba called the Roomba 980, with a camera that maps out a room of its objects. The camera uses VSlam technology to map out a room and the objects in the room to clean the entire floor of a home. The Roomba 980 also includes Carpet boost where the suction is turned up when the Roomba sensor detects itself on carpets or rugs. This was also one of the first Roombas to include Wi-FI connectivity with app control.[21]

In May 2022, iRobot announced the new operating system and software platform for its Roomba vacuum cleaners, iRobot OS. The company stated the move from iRobot genius to iRobot OS will aid in giving their products a deeper understanding of the user’s households and the users habits, in addition to voice commands and greater objected identification.[22]

In October 2022, iRobot released the Roomba Combo, a Roomba j7+ that includes mopping capabilities. The robot is able to differentiate between hardwood floor and carpet; when it moves to carpet it lifts its mop to the top of the robot.[23]

Braava

Braava 380t damp cleaning

Braava is iRobot's Floor Mopping Robot, designed to work on all hard-surface floors. Braava uses disposable or microfiber cleaning cloths for damp and/or dry cleaning. The 380t model comes with a Channel 4 NorthStar Navigation Cube, which is set on a high surface and directs the robot around the area it cleans.

The design was known as the Mint until 2013. It was developed by Evolution Robotics, which was acquired by iRobot in 2012.[24]

Create

Main article: iRobot Create

An unmodified iRobot Create with Command Module (small green attachment)

Create is a hobby robot, released in 2007. Create offers users the possibility of changing or adapting the robot's functions through experimentation with the basic elements of robotics as well as by adding sensors, grippers, wireless connections, computers, or other hardware.

Root

Root is a robot that can help kids learn how to code. It is programmed through a tablet or smartphone.[25] iRobot acquired Root Robotics in 2019.[26]

In development

Terra

In recent developments, iRobot received FCC approval to move forward with their plans to commercialize a robotic lawn mower capable of using wireless localization technology.[27] In early 2019 iRobot announced the robot is to be branded "Terra". Terra uses mapping (similar to the Roomba i7) to navigate and mow the lawn in a straight-line pattern. It uses smart beacon stakes to localize itself in the yard, and is taught a boundary by the user (where the robot should avoid going, such as a garden). Terra includes Wi-Fi capabilities and a docking station for recharging. Terra was available as a beta program in 2019 in Germany and the United States.[28] The program was indefinitely postponed in March 2020.

Discontinued products

Scooba

Main article: Scooba (brand)

Photo of the now-discontinued iRobot Scooba 380 in 2009

Scooba was iRobot's floor-washing robot. The product became commercially available in limited quantities in late 2005 before a full product release in 2006. Early models required either a special non-bleach cleaning solution or white vinegar to wash hard floors. Newer units could use plain water. Several versions were marketed. iRobot phased out the Scooba line of products in favor of the Braava line of floor moppers in 2016.[29]

Dirt Dog (char)

Dirt Dog was designed for workshop use and was released in 2006. This product picks up small objects such as nuts, bolts, dirt, and debris from a workshop or similar floor. The unit was able to be used on hard floors, shop carpets and industrial floor surfaces. The Dirt Dog was discontinued in late 2010.

My Real Baby

My Real Baby was a robotic toy marketed by iRobot from 2000 and produced in partnership with the toy manufacturer Hasbro. It is no longer in production. This product, which was meant to look like a human infant, employed animatronic facial expressions and was developed from an emotionally expressive and responsive robot developed by iRobot corporation called "IT."

ConnectR

Connect R was made in 2010; unfortunately it did not pass pilot test, and therefore was never introduced to the public.

Verro

Verro was a swimming-pool cleaning robot released in April 2007.[30]

Looj

Looj was a gutter-cleaning robot released in September 2007, and based on an autonomous version created for a science fair project created by Lucas Garrow in 2004 (Garrow was a finalist in the 2004 The Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (DCYSC)). Looj is not an autonomous robot, but rather a remote-controlled robot patterned after a toy tank with an auger mounted on the front. The robot fits inside most gutters to clean out debris stuck inside them, such as leaves and pine needles. It has long treads on its side which allow it to move inside the gutter. The auger dislodges and removes almost all of the debris inside the gutter by flinging it sideways into the air. Looj also has a detachable handle/remote that is used to carry and operate the robot. It was discontinued in 2017, but as of 2020 parts, supplies, and entire robot kits are still available on the aftermarket on sites like eBay.

Mirra

Mirra was a swimming-pool cleaning robot, the successor of Verro. Mirra cleaned a pool's floor and walls of large and small debris. It was discontinued in 2014.

Military and policing robots

A PackBot Scout robot shown with its second pair of treads in the horizontal position. This robot is conducting search and rescue at ground zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In April 2016, iRobot sold off its Defense & Security unit, with a new company being formed called Endeavor Robotics.[31] This unit became part of Teledyne FLIR in 2019.[32][33]

First Generation Robots

PackBot

Main article: PackBot

SUGV

Main article: Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle

Warrior

Main article: iRobot Warrior

R-Gator

Main article: iRobot R-Gator

Negotiator

Main article: iRobot Negotiator

Transphibian

Main article: iRobot Transphibian

Chembot

Ember

AIRarm

AIRarm is an inflatable arm robot developed by iRobot. The inflatable arm uses pumps to inflate the arm. Since the arm uses strings and actuators, no motors were used at the joints.[42]

FirstLook

FirstLook is a small reconnaissance robot weighing 5.2 lb (2.4 kg) with a top speed of 3.8 mph (6.1 km/h) and line-of-sight control range of 200 m (219 yd). It has visible and thermal cameras and infrared sensors to gather and transmit images of buildings, caves, or other locations. It can participate in explosive ordnance disposal by carrying 2.5 lb (1.1 kg) of C4 explosive to an IED. The robot has the ability to mesh together a network of feeds from other robots to extend the range of its sensors. The FirstLook has CBRN detectors and is semi-autonomous, meaning it can perform tasks like course correction and flipping itself over without direct intervention. 100 were bought by JIEDDO in March 2012 and the Pentagon has ordered hundreds more.[43]

Medical robots

RP-VITA

Research and dual-role robots

Ranger

Main article: iRobot Ranger

Seaglider

Main article: Seaglider

Criticism

Training data on Facebook

When training data for the Roomba J7 vacuum robot ended up on Facebook, like a test person sitting on a toilet, testers were assuming that they did not expect to give up their privacy and such data leakage, while iRobot took the standpoint that such persons are paid and expect their data to be shared. iRobot sent 2 million images to Scale AI, an image annotation service provider, and mentioned it terminated its business relation with Scale AI.[53][54]

Unregulated use of reserved frequency

iRobot has been criticized for attempting unregulated use of 6240-6740 MHz band, and asking for an FCC exemption to do so. This band is for use for the lawn mowing robot without needing to use an electronic fence as a boundary marker, instead by using radio beacons. The band falls into a band reserved for radio astronomy use, thus interfering with radio telescope observations of methanol's 6.66852 GHz emissions.[55]

See also

References

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