Amazon just took a big step toward cornering the market for household robots. The company has reached a deal to acquire iRobot, the creator of Roomba robot vacuums. The purchase is worth $1.7 billion in cash and will maintain Colin Angle as iRobot's CEO. The two firms didn't say when they expected the deal to close, but that will depend on the approval of both iRobot shareholders and regulators.
In announcing the deal, Amazon didn't outline its exact plans. Amazon Devices Senior VP Dave Limp focused on iRobot's ability to "reinvent how people clean," and said he looked forward to inventing products. Angle said Amazon shared iRobot's "passion" for innovative home products and felt the internet giant was a good fit.
A successful merger will end 32 years of independence for iRobot. The company was founded in 1990 by MIT researchers, and initially focused on military robots like PackBot. It marked a major turning point in 2002, when it unveiled the first Roomba — the robovac quickly became popular and racked up sales of
a million units by 2004. The company expanded its lineup to include products like robotic mops (Braava), and became so successful that it sold its military business in 2016.
iRobot has faced a rough few months. While it generally fared well in recent years, the company posted a loss in its latest quarter and saw both its revenue and cash reserves shrink. It also warned of weaker growth due to the potential impact of inflation and reduced customer demand in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The company was hopeful that it could get back to profitability and even outperform its past expectations, but it might not have to worry as much with Amazon's help.
The deal could up-end the household robotics market. iRobot has fierce competition these days, including Anker's Eufy brand, Neato, Roborock, Shark and Wyze. Amazon would not only give iRobot more resources to fend off rivals, but much stronger marketing — it's safe to presume Amazon would promote iRobot products over the alternatives. As it stands, Amazon could use the acquisition to fuel projects like its Astro companion or a growing legion of warehouse robots.