iRobot Alumni Build Robot-Vacuum Accessories To Promote “Successful Cleaning Missions”

Sometimes a robot just needs a little help from its friends. And now a pair of former iRobot engineers who lost their jobs in last year’s downsizing at the Bedford, MA, company have struck out on their own to help iRobot’s popular Roomba floor cleaning robots do their jobs better.

Launched in January, Robot Add-Ons introduced its first Roomba accessory just four months ago and already has 10 products in its catalog, from protective bumpers to hypoallergenic filters. Created by Jim Lynch, an electrical engineer who invented iRobot’s Looj gutter-cleaning robot, and Barry Stout, a software engineer who contributed to the Roomba’s internal programming, the Georgetown, MA, startup has a mission to help consumers get more out of their investment in a home robot.

Roombas are “really good at accomplishing one task, but there are a whole bunch of other tasks they can do really well if given the right accessories,” says Lynch.

Robot Add-Ons' "Unicorn" bumper extenderRobot Add-Ons is an entirely bootstrapped, self-funded operation—Lynch and Stout are handing everything, right down to filming product demonstration videos. All of the company’s products are available from its website and from other niche e-retailing sites for robot fans, and may eventually be available from the same stores that sell Roombas, such as Best Buy and Bed, Bath & Beyond. “The general marketing plan is to be wherever iRobot is,” says Stout. But even without a bricks-and-mortar outlet, sales are “doubling weekly,” he says.

Of course, iRobot itself (NASDAQ: IRBT) sells a line of Roomba accessories, including replacement brushes, filters, and batteries. So Robot Add-Ons is focusing on things iRobot doesn’t make—but maybe ought to.

Robot Add-Ons' "Green" cleaning pad“We’re trying to solve the everyday problems that people have with Roomba that prevent it from having a successful cleaning mission,” explains Lynch. “Like getting wedged under some furniture. If you walk in and there it is, stuck under the couch, then it hasn’t been very successful. We’re trying to help with the whole experience of owning a robot. That’s certainly a need I think we can fill.”

Robot Add-Ons’ product line includes a bumper extender that helps prevent the furniture-wedging problem; it’s a little horn, called the “Unicorn,” that makes the Roomba’s touch-sensitive bumper about an inch taller. There’s also a bumper pad that keeps the Roomba from scuffing furniture; three different types of cleaning pads that replace the Roomba’s main brush, making the vacuum more effective on hard floors; and a HEPA filter that traps smaller particles than those the Roomba’s own filter can catch.

Perhaps the most ingenious product is a … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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