On today’s Bullseye, we go beneath the surface to look at Amazon’s purchase of iRobot. On August 5th Amazon & iRobot announced they entered into a merger agreement where Amazon will acquire the iRobot cleaners for approximately $1.7 billion. I’ve always been impressed by the Roomba – I have one – but it is limited to those rooms that don’t have a lot of furniture, table and chair legs and other obstacles. More often than not, mine “gets in trouble” – beeps and I have to rescue it from danger. Now to be fair, I bought mine several years ago and the Machine Learning and AI software I’m sure has improved to avoid these kinds of mishaps. So why did Amazon pay so much for this device, no matter how cool it is? Of course, it will connect to Alexa and be able to do things we haven’t even imagined yet.
But in my opinion, Amazon bought the company and its intellectual properties for two basic reasons. The first is to get quickly into the robotic business (same as they did in buying Whole Foods to move fast into grocery) and most importantly – here’s where the fine print comes in – to be able to map out inside the homes of the more than 40 million homes worldwide that have bought home robots from iRobot. While the company is best known for its vacuum they do a lot more: they worked with NASA on the first Micro Rovers, sent robots to reveal the mysteries of the Great Pyramid of Giza, found harmful subsea oil in the Gulf of Mexico, deployed the first ground robots used by US forces in conflict and created the first self-navigating FDA approved remote presence robots to hospitals. Last year they also acquired the Aeric Cleantec air purification company. Amazon bought a lot more than just robotic vacuums to sell on its website – they bought the intelligence that could challenge Ocado and Kroger in micro-fulfillment centers around the globe as well as being the first one who can integrate your grocery purchases on line, that are then delivered by robots, and then put away in your pantry and fridge – and always in the right space. Yes, Amazon has taken Rosie the robot from George Jetson and added a lot more.