Meet iRobot's Smart Autonomous Fleet
By: Lisa Chai, Sr. Research Analyst
The name Roomba® has been synonymous with robotic vacuums for almost 20 years. That fact is a testament to both iRobot’s long-term vision and the company’s ability to execute that vision consistently—year after year.
iRobot introduced its first Roomba vacuuming robot back in 2002, at a time when home robotics devices were still considered a novelty. Since then, our homes have been inundated with personal devices that use AI, machine learning, and sophisticated algorithms to fill our homes with music, turn on our lights, protect us from intruders, order our groceries, and more. Thanks to recent advancements in AI capabilities, these devices are increasingly working together to deliver a truly ‘smarter home.’ Today, iRobot continues to be at the forefront of this momentous shift with its growing line of smart cleaning devices. The company’s intelligent robots include vacuums and mops that take full advantage of the latest AI, machine learning, machine vision and robotics technologies.
iRobot’s lasting market dominance and proven leadership in the robotics and artificial intelligence space have made it an important component of in the ROBO Global Artificial Intelligence index (ticker: THNQ) and the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation index (ticker: ROBO). The company’s shares have climbed 75% in the past 3 years, and the stock is up 200% over the past twelve months, following delivery of several new product innovations and demonstrated growth in all of its key product lines.
Multiple factors have contributed to iRobot’s recent growth. First, the work-from-home dynamic created by the pandemic boosted demand for cleaning robots. Second, the fact that a growing number of consumers are seeking a premium experience with home-connected devices is bearing fruit. iRobot’s line of premium robots grew by approximately 55% in 2020, representing an impressive 60% of total robot sales and helping increase the average gross selling price. Also notable is the fact that, in a year when overall adoption of robotic vacuum cleaners accelerated, iRobot maintained its global market-share position. The company is seeing consistently high levels of utilization by connected customers each month, and robust engagement with new software features, like creating favorite clean routines or having Roomba clean specific rooms in a desired order, continues to validate the value that iRobot is providing to its customers.
Paving the Way for the Smart Home of the Future
How has iRobot been able to maintain its dominant market share of more than 45% of the market with over 14 million connected home robots sold—more than any other AI-powered robotic vacuum company in the world? ROBO Global recently spent some time with Keith Hartsfield, iRobot’s EVP and Chief Product Officer, to discuss the company’s success and explore how iRobot is paving the way for the smart home of the future. iRobot’s vision is to provide the best cleaning experience possible, using fully autonomous robotics systems powered by AI. Keith said that, to achieve this goal, iRobot recently increased its investments in software to further bolster its capabilities in AI, machine vision, and the advanced sensors needed to understand the layout of each customer’s home and track trends in consumer behavior. It’s a strategy that is paying off.
According to Keith, what iRobot does so well is “putting the user at the center of the universe.” He sees that ability as vital to creating user trust. “In many ways, it’s the consumer’s first experience with a robot, and iRobot’s vision is to make that experience as intuitive and thoughtful as possible.” The company clearly takes that goal to heart, delivering robots that have the ability to learn and remember the layout of each home, including the shape of each room as well as specific objects in the rooms. As we move toward an era in which consumers share their homes with a growing number of intelligent robots, iRobot has remained one step ahead of other providers of consumer robotics.
A More Modern and Intelligent Solution
Roomba users already benefit from the ability to create a customized schedule to clean certain rooms at key times—even when no one is at home. iRobot’s autonomous, WiFi-enabled systems use sophisticated AI and machine learning algorithms to create a detailed Smart Map of each home, using a vSLAM optical sensor that gathers more than 200,000 points of data every second. Once that map is created, the user can customize commands using the Roomba smartphone app. For example, when vacuuming is complete, the Roomba can communicate with iRobot’s Braava Jet robot mop to initiate mopping—with no user interaction. Premium Roombas like the i3+, i7+ and s9+ are integrated with a Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal charging station, where the robot will self-empty its bin by ejecting the debris that it collects after each mission into an Allergen Lock bag system that traps pollen and mold. Using dozens of integrated sensors, these robots know when their batteries are running low and will return to base, to recharge for the amount of time needed to continue cleaning and get the job done. By enabling the owner to inform the robot about where, when and how it should clean, the result is a completely hands-free, autonomous cleaning, done to exact specifications of the owner.
Keith sees iRobot’s most recent product innovations—including a more sophisticated design, full autonomy, and the addition of more AI capabilities—as particularly timely. The best-in-class navigational features in the Roomba s9+, for example, include a 3D optical sensor that enables the robot to navigate at night, scanning its path and using a combination of an edge-detection sensor and advanced software to sense and avoid clutter and cliffs (i.e., stairs), and clean deep into the corners of any room in the home. As each Roomba cleans, it also collects huge amounts of data about the home. iRobot’s premium robots have keen spatial awareness, enabling them to identify the dirtiest areas of the home, and features user-programmed ‘keep out zones’ and ‘clean zones’ to further customize the cleaning process. iRobot’s home cleaning robots come in various sizes and shapes, and they can all be controlled via a smartphone app or with voice commands using digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home.
While competitors claim to have intelligent devices that “can do what humans are able to do,” ROBO Global’s proprietary research indicates that Roomba’s premium models (including the s9+) go even further, performing even better than humans—an achievement that is perfectly aligned with the greater goal of AI of not simply replacing manual tasks, but to perform tasks at a higher level of proficiency than humans ever could.
Shifting into the Platform Business with Genius Home Intelligence
While navigation and mapping technology make iRobot’s vacuums autonomous, Keith believes that it is the thoughtful intelligence powered by AI that gives Roomba users a truly unique and personalized experience. iRobot has spent the past few years gathering massive amounts of user data to understand how consumers use smart cleaning systems. This data enables the robots to learn from each task and improve over time. “The state-of-the-art Genius Home Intelligence platform brought in elements of AI and machine learning to the home that wasn’t possible before,” says Keith. “Genius is extensible across our entire portfolio of Wi-Fi-connected robots, which unlocks a wide range of new features for our customers to have greater control over where, when and how the robots clean.” The AI within Genius already facilitates a wide range of actions for the owner to consider, from scheduling suggestions and further customization of the owner’s maps to automating Roomba or Braava to work with other connected devices—like security or lighting systems and seasonal recommendations that will adjust cleaning frequency (during peak allergy periods or times when pets typically shed more).
The Genius platform is key to iRobot’s growth. While the company has sold over 35 million robotic vacuum cleaners, its global reach is even more impressive: iRobot has now sold more than 14 million Wi-Fi-connected robots, all of which can take advantage of the Genius platform, once the user connects the robot with the company’s Home Knowledge Cloud. With this massive fleet of intelligent robots, iRobot may already be the world’s largest provider of autonomous systems. The release of version 2.0 of the Genius platform promises to introduce additional features and functionalities that further enhance the reach and growth trajectory of the company.
The Value of Intelligent Autonomy
From self-driving cars to home appliances, the devices of tomorrow that will deliver the greatest value are those that can communicate intuitively with one another, to create a level of intelligent autonomy that does not exist today. iRobot is already working to bridge that gap by offering a reliable and highly personalized digital experience in the home. While a large portion of iRobot’s sales growth in the past few quarters was derived from its premium line of robots, we believe there is a tremendous runway for new growth, as additional capabilities and features are added to its line of mid-range cleaning robots. The company currently holds more than 200 patents related to robotics, AI, and home understanding. More than just a robotic vacuum company, iRobot has proven its leadership in AI and home robotics—a fact that has helped the company grow to become the world’s largest and most profitable autonomous systems provider to consumers.
Through innovation, product diversification, and a constant focus on developing AI-powered robots that are designed focused on delivering an excellent end-user experience, we anticipate that iRobot will maintain its leadership position into the foreseeable future. For iRobot, that future looks very promising, indeed.