Consumer robotics reaches key inflection point in popularity
BURLINGTON, <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 />Mass., October 25, 2004 - In a major milestone for the consumer technology industry, iRobot has now sold more than 1 million Roomba? Robotic Floorvacs. A burgeoning number of robotics innovators have been inspired by the success of Roomba to move beyond the primarily theoretical applications to which robots had previously been consigned and are now beginning to create robots to help people do real tasks in the home.
"The $200 mobile robotic vacuum cleaners and other such devices that are making their way into the consumer world, signal the beginnings of the development of a new industry focused on cost-effective mobile devices that can assist and entertain us in a variety of ways," said Strategy Analytics' Neena Buck, whose report "Mobile Service Robots: Entering the Commercial World," was included in the 2004 World Robotics study created by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
According to Buck, iRobot is the leading example of a company that has funneled its DARPA-funded projects into an appropriate consumer product using off-the-shelf parts. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense and pursues research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances.
Until now robots have been created largely for research and industrial purposes. Roomba, introduced in 2002, provided a user-friendly way to do a chore that most people hate -- vacuuming -- at a price they could afford. "By selling 1 million Roomba robotic vacuums, iRobot has demonstrated that creating practical home robots that deliver true utility is a significant new business," said Colin Angle, Chief Executive Officer of iRobot.
In its new 2004 study, the U.N. cited the "huge market potential" of robots for domestic tasks and noted that "the idea behind robotic domestic devices is to liberate people from unpleasant daily chores and give them more free time." In an earlier report, the United Nations Economic Commission forecast sales of vacuum cleaning robots would reach 400,000 units by 2006; Roomba has considerably exceeded that number two years earlier than predicted.
"iRobot has robots deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, helping our troops by destroying bombs. We learned a lot about reliability and quality by working on robots that can survive in combat. This type of experience prepared us to deliver robots that survive in unpredictable home settings," said Helen Greiner, iRobot's Chairman.
Roomba is popular not only because of its robotics technology, but because of the advanced cleaning technology that has been incorporated into it. Roomba has infrared sensors that allow it to follow walls and avoid falling down stairs, wheel-drop sensors that stop Roomba when it is lifted and a bump sensor that keeps it from interfering with furniture and other objects on the floor. The iRobot team also developed an innovative way to clean with less power, utilizing a flapper and brush system to pick up large particulates and a high-velocity nozzle that suctions-up small particles like dust. The latest Roomba Discovery and Roomba Red models add an advanced cleaning system called Dirt DetectTM that senses particularly dirty areas and tells the robot to concentrate on that area until it is clean. A recharging Home BaseTM and remote control add to the convenience of using Roomba.
Roomba Discovery robotic vacuums are available for order on the iRobot Web site at www.irobot.com and in numerous retail stores, including Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Linens 'n Things, Kohl's, Best Buy, Macy's, Sears, Filene's, Robinsons May, Hecht's, The Sharper Image, Brookstone, Hammacher Schlemmer, Amazon.com, and other retailers.
About iRobot Corporation
iRobot has a long commitment to building robotic products that make living safer and easier for people in many walks of life. Over the past 14 years, iRobot has developed and built innovative products for the government, law enforcement, industrial cleaning and toy industries, as well as the consumer marketplace. In 2003, co-founders Helen Greiner and Colin Angle were named Ernst & Young regional Entrepreneurs of the Year for their innovative work in technology. For additional information about iRobot, visit www.irobot.com.