IRobot’s Roombas to Map Households for Google Smart Homes

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Autonomous vehicle developers rely heavily on navigational technology that maps the complex terrain of roads, curbs, signs, and people that their cars have to thread through.

Google, as it develops its smart home systems, is turning to a company that already knows how to navigate the terrain of a household—corridors, kitchens, cat beds, cast-off shoes, and chair legs included. The tech giant has formed a collaboration with Bedford, MA-based iRobot, whose disc-like, self-driving Roomba vacuum cleaners have been trundling through rooms for years, sucking up dust while avoiding collisions.

The Roomba i7+ model now has sensors and smart mapping software that allow it to construct floor plans for homes as it cleans—a feature that dovetails with Google’s plans to automate household tasks and populate living spaces with coordinated smart devices, iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) says.

Through the Google Assistant, which works with devices including Google Home, a voice-activated hub connected to the Internet, Roomba owners will be able to speak to the vacuum cleaner, giving orders such as, “Clean the kitchen,” iRobot says.

Piggybacking on the Roomba’s mental map of the layout of rooms and device locations, Google Assistant could be one of the mechanisms that govern other smart home functions, such as appliances, security cameras, thermometers, and window shades. That’s the vision of Michele Turner, director of Smart Home Ecosystem at Google, a unit of Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG).

The Google integration is a smart business move for iRobot, VentureBeat points out. The company’s home and pool cleaners are part of a robot cleaner market that could amount to more than $4 billion by 2023—but the entire smart home market could reach nearly ten times that within a year, VentureBeat reported. In 2017, iRobot made its vacuums responsive to simple commands such as “stop” or “start” via Amazon’s Alexa, as competitors Neato and Samsung had done, according to The Verge.

But will householders be leery of allowing Google and a network of household machines to map their private living spaces? Google executives told The Verge that Roombas won’t be sucking up personal facts to feed into Google’s archives of data on individuals, and to power up its targeted advertising business. The household maps will only be used to improve smart device functions, and users can withhold permission for their data to be shared, the tech giant says.

Still, the temptations might be there in the future for a company that serves advertisers of household goods of all types, when the Roomba would always know just the right spot where that cute new chiffonier could fit perfectly.

Photo credit: iRobot