NYTIMES - Hey, Alexa, tell Roomba to vacuum the bedroom.
Amazon announced last Friday that it had reached an agreement to buy iRobot Corp, maker of the Roomba robotic vacuum, for US$1.7 billion, adding to its growing roster of smart-home products.
"We know that saving time matters, and chores take precious time that can be better spent doing something that customers love," Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon Devices, said in a statement announcing the acquisition.
Amazon will acquire iRobot, including its debt, for US$61 per share in an all-cash transaction, according to the statement. The purchase would be Amazon's fourth-largest acquisition after the company bought Whole Foods for US$13.7 billion in 2017 and movie studio MGM for US$8.5 billion last year.
Last month, Amazon announced a foray into medical services with an agreement to spend US$3.9 billion to acquire One Medical, a chain of primary care clinics around the United States.
The Roomba and iRobot's other cleaning devices, including robotic mops and air purifiers, join a portfolio of Amazon-owned smart-home devices that includes Ring doorbells and Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant and speaker. iRobot also makes an educational robot called Root that allows children to experiment with coding. The
Roomba first hit dirty floors in 2002, to the delight of lazy people and the bemusement of pets, particularly cats. The New York Times described it as "easy, effective and fun," and a product that quickly became "a member of the household."
The US$200 early version struggled around corners and chair legs, even falling down stairs. But 20 years later, the Roomba j7 can, according to the company, recognize over 80 common objects (including cords and pet waste), returns to its dock once its chores are complete and then empties itself. The most expensive option sells for US$999.99.
While iRobot is best known for its roving cleaning equipment, the technology powering these tools is also sucking up troves of spatial data used to map users' homes. Some digital rights groups have expressed concern that this data could help companies like Amazon find out information about the size of homes and even their contents, right down to the brand.
iRobot reported US$255.4 million in revenue in the second quarter of 2022, a 30 per cent decrease over the previous year. Amazon reported US$121.2 billion in revenue in the second quarter, up 7.2 per cent from a year earlier but down slightly from the 7.3 per cent revenue growth it reported in the first quarter of this year. It was Amazon's slowest growth in more than two decades after the company began to come down from its high pandemic demands.