Over two million consumers hand over cleaning to robots

By Matthew Henry

MASSACHUSETTS, USA: Although the futuristic world envisaged by the Jetsons cartoons may still be the realm of fantasy, US-based robot manufacturer iRobot believes robotic appliances are now taking their place in consumers’ homes.

The company announced yesterday it has sold over two million of its Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners worldwide, making Roomba one of the most successful robotic appliances to date.

iRobot, which claims to make 80 per cent of the world’s robots – mainly for the US military, has interpreted its sales milestone as an indication of changing consumer perceptions towards robotic technology.

“Selling two million Roomba vacuuming robots is not just a milestone for iRobot, but for the robot industry as a whole,” said iRobot executive vice president and general manager, Greg White.

“This achievement signifies that more and more consumers are adopting robots in their everyday lives, thereby liberating themselves from mundane household chores and spending more time with family and friends.”

Roomba was introduced to the US market in 2002, and has been distributed in Australia since 2005 by Salton Inc – renowned for selling two million George Foreman grills locally.

Salton chairman, Milton Dickins, said two million sales worldwide is a breakthrough for a product like Roomba.

“It’s a very significant achievement. You’re talking about a product which is at the cutting edge of domestic applications – you’re talking about a robot. As with any new technology, it is not easy to create the market place,” Dickins told current.com.au.

“Roomba is selling on word of mouth. People who have a Roomba endorse it 100 per cent, and that is where it is really starting to take off – we are starting to get community acceptance of robotics.”

iRobot may have expanded the market with its low-cost Roomba, which retails in Australia for $399, but competitor in the robotic vacuum category, Electrolux, which markets the premium Trilobite 2.0 (RRP $2,999) robotic vacuum cleaner, believes robotic appliances are still very much a niche product and will remain so into the foreseeable future.

“There will always be a small percentage of early adopters who will go for these products, but of the roughly 7.4 million households in Australia it is safe to say probably upwards of 99 per cent are using a traditional vacuum cleaner, and although I would love to see that change, I don’t think it is going to very quickly,” said Electrolux floor care managing director, John Mahar.

Electrolux would not release its sales figures for the Trilobite, which was launched in 1997.

“We are very happy with the number we have sold, and we are very happy with the feedback we have received on the product,” said Mahar.

Salton will release its second floor care product sourced from iRobot this September, the Scooba – a robot which will wash floors.

Vacuum cleaner category leader Dyson has also developed a robotic cleaner, but the company has said it will not back the technology for mass production until it is confident the cleaning results are on par with traditional vacuum cleaners.

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