iRobot, maker of the Roomba, has entered into a deal to sell off its military robot unit for up to $45million in order to focus on its core business of consumer robots. The company has been providing consumer robots since it first introduced the Roomba in 2002, but its roots go back to 1991 with the release of its first robot Genghis which was designed as a space exploration robot. As a well known maker of consumer robotics, perhaps the sale of its military unit has more to do with the future direction of military robotics and the potential for negative perception should those robotics become weaponized.
- Vaccum Cleaning - Roomba
- Floor Scrubbing - Scooba
- Floor Mopping - Braava
- Pool Cleaning - Mirra
- Gutter Cleaning - Looj
Clearly we can a see central theme here of devices that take on household chores, which is why most people are familiar with the brand. However, iRobot also has a line of business driven robots, mainly for video collaboration, and has a line of military devices (until the deal is finalized).
The company has cited that the consumer robotic division has rapidly outpaced the growth of the military unit as the driving force behind the divestiture, but we have to wonder how much the potential for negative public perception played a role. Science fiction has helped to develop a perception of weaponized robots taking over the world. Who would really be comfortable with a robot in their house that is made by the same company that is creating robotic weapons? Perhaps iRobot recognized this risk and decided that, as robots gain in functionality and the capacity to develop weaponized robots becomes a reality, that it would better suited to remain a consmer play and not jeapordize their core business.
iRobot Device History Over Time:
Image Source: irobot.com
All segments of robotics, industrial, commercial service, and consumer, will continue to experience double digit growth across the globe for the next several years. We will see new vendors emerge with exciting new technology and we will see existing players improve upon their existing products and develop new products that will make our lives easier. Robotics as an industry is at a tipping point. Not only has the robotic technology itself improved, but the broader technological landscape has improved which has bolstered the development of more functionally advanced and intelligent devices. As an early competitor in the robotics space, iRobot no doubt has a sense for where the best potential for growth relative to their strategy lies. Clearly they believe that a focus on the consumer segment provides the greatest opportunity for growth and have committed their resources to providing consumers with the best possible robots for the home.