The company behind the Roomba vacuum, iRobot, has grand plans to one day distribute the mapping data its robot cleaner collects to giant technology companies like Google, Apple and Amazon.
Two models of the tiny smart vacuum already collect mapping and navigation information on rooms in the home, and the CEO on Monday told Reuters that the data could eventually be shared with other technology companies, with iRobot seizing a bigger role in the burgeoning market for “smart” devices in the Web-connected household.
“There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” iRobot chief executive Colin Angle said in a statement to The Post Tuesday.
The idea behind Angle’s thinking is for Roombas to improve how other connected devices function by feeding them crucial spatial information collected by the vacuums. Advanced Roomba models use cameras and sensors to outline a home’s floor plan, and keep track of themselves while navigating furniture and home appliances. Angle's vision for the Roomba, however, places the domestic bot in service of improving the smart home. For example, the robot would eventually be able to tell home hubs, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, how many lights there are on a floor, so the devices would know which lights to turn on.
In other words, the Roomba could become a kind of machine mediator, Angle said, informing and bolstering other key features of the future, connected home, including “music, TV, heat, blinds, stove, coffee machine, fan, gaming console, smart picture frames, or robot pet.”
iRobot launched the original Roomba vacuum cleaner in 2002. But the 980 model, which debuted in 2015 and retails for about $900, was the first to use new navigation technology to map a home’s interior while keeping tabs on its own location. The data generated from its cleaning duties is what could fuel a more interconnected household, powered by devices that are aware of a home’s intimate details.
Amazon, Apple and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, are also invested in a version of Angle’s strategy. For instance, customers at home can already activate their Roomba through Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.
(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
But the prospect of sharing information derived from the intricacies of people's homes — and their literal dirt — raises potential privacy concerns, which Angle says the company acknowledges. “iRobot takes privacy and security of its customers very seriously,” he said. “We do hope to extract value from the information, but would only do so with the permission of our customers."
After this story was published, Reuters issued a correction to its July 24 story. The article now states that iRobot may eventually share its maps for free with customer consent. It originally stated that iRobot could reach a deal to sell its maps. This story has been updated to reflect that change.