iRobot hopes to mop up with floor-mopping robot in U.S.

iRobot Braava

As its military sales have stagnated over the past year, robotics market-leader iRobot has been leaning more and more on its always preeminent Home Robots division to drive corporate profits. Over the past several years, however, that division has often seemed to be less a site of technological innovation and product diversification than a home for endless iterations of its extant products, with a particular emphasis on the Roomba – most recently through the introduction of the 700-series in 2011 and the replacement of 2007’s 500-series with the 600-series in 2012, for a total of six models currently available.

It’s big news, then, when the firm moves to expand its home robotics offerings in a new direction. After launching in Europe earlier this year, yesterday marked iRobot’s official debut of the Braava series of floor-mopping robots in the U.S. Like the Roomba, the Braava has been released in more than one model and at more than one price point – in this case, as the Braava 320, available at $199.99, and the Braava 380t at $299.99.

Not so conceptually distant from the Roomba or the Scooba, the Braava is intended to fill a highly specific market gap in iRobot’s offerings as defined in their press release:

While the company’s Roomba vacuum cleaning robot and Scooba floor washing robot make multiple passes over a floor to provide a deep clean, Braava is designed to systematically and efficiently dry or damp mop the entire floor in just one pass. Roomba vacuums, and Scooba scrubs floors clean. Braava is a perfect complementary solution for quickly maintaining hard floors every day, keeping them free of dust and other debris.

The Braava’s design is an evolution of the Mint and Mint Plus, devices manufactured and sold by what was Evolution Robotics prior to its acquisition by iRobot in September 2012. The acquisition simultaneously expanded iRobot’s body of technological assets and eliminated a moderately successful rival in a market space iRobot clearly desires to monopolize – as CEO Colin Angle said at the time, “Evolution Robotics’ products will expand our automated floor care offerings while its technology and intellectual property will bring visual navigation and simultaneous localization and mapping, which could be deployed in future iRobot products to deliver greater customer value.” In addition, it also lead to the installation of Evolution Robotics CEO Paolo Pirjanian as Chief Technology Officer of iRobot.

Investors continue to receive iRobot’s efforts to dominate the domestic cleaning segment of the robotics industry with moderate warmth, as the firm’s stock jumped 4 percent from end of trading Wednesday to end of trading Thursday. This was no doubt a welcome response, given the firm’s increasing reliance on their Home division as they seek to stabilize their military sales and establish their still-fledgling corporate and medical telepresence market.

[ photo courtesy of iRobot ]

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