Roomba on the floor

Roomba-harvested home maps could be sold to develop smart home devices

Image credit: Reuters

iRobot, the manufacturer of the automated robot vacuum cleaner, is working towards a deal to sell its extensive home mapping data to Amazon, Google or Apple in order to improve the tech giant’s smart home assistants.

Since 2002, Roomba has been trundling around homes, avoiding obstacles and cleaning floors. Simultaneously, these robots have been mapping their homes in order to maximise the efficiency of their cleaning routines, collecting information about home floor plans and the basic shapes and locations of everything on the floor.

While all robot vacuum cleaners use infrared or laser sensors to detect obstacles, Roomba has a camera, new sensors, and software, giving it the ability to map and navigate its surroundings more effectively.

Now, the device’s manufacturer, iRobot, is considering selling this data to manufacturers of smart home devices. This could be the future of iRobot’s business strategy.

According to IHS Markit, smart home devices were worth $9.8bn in 2016, with 60 per cent growth expected this year. An understanding of their home environments could help make these devices more sophisticated.

“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,” said Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot.

Angle told Reuters that iRobot could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of Amazon, Google and Apple within two years. These three tech giants are all pushing voice assistants as integral parts of smart home systems.

Spatial mapping could provide smart speakers and other smart home devices with valuable information, such as how to adjust lighting or air conditioning appropriately, or to help with targeting adverts: furniture adverts, for example, may be targeted to owners of large, empty rooms.

In recent years, cheaper competitors to Roomba have arrived on the market, including Bissell’s SmartClean and the HooverQuest 600. Angle hopes that integrating into the smart home system – such as by making the Roomba compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant earlier this year – will make the product more appealing, rather than cause privacy concerns.

Roomba users may have their data shared internally with the government, third-party vendors and subsidiaries under a range of conditions, although the iRobot Home app does offer the option to switch off cloud-sharing functions.

According to Angle, iRobot will not sell user data without permission. He expressed confidence that users would want to take advantage of greater functionality by consenting to their data: maps of their home interiors.

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