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Robot vacuums’ floor maps might one day be used for more than navigating furniture and forgotten piles of laundry, if Google and iRobot have their way. Today, the two firms announced a strategic partnership to improve smart home devices using spatial data collected by iRobot’s robot vacuum cleaners.
“iRobot is delivering products that help people keep a cleaner and smarter home,” said iRobot chair and CEO Colin Angle. “Robots with mapping and spatial awareness capabilities will play an important role in allowing other smart devices in the home to more seamlessly work together. We’re looking forward to working with Google to explore new ways to enable a more thoughtful home.”
iRobot’s newer Roomba vacuums — including the i7+, which launched this fall — can create indoor maps of rooms within domiciles and effectively “remember” where they’ve been. Thanks to a combination of the company’s iAdapt 3.0 Navigation tech, a top-mounted camera, and visual simultaneous localization and mapping (VSLAM), they’re able to navigate to destinations using their surroundings to orient themselves, all while autonomously segmenting out rooms before sweeping.
Executives from Google and iRobot told the Verge that the indoor maps could be used to locate products in a room, or to assign names and locations to devices and appliances automatically. iRobot previously hinted that in the future it plans to allow users to share floor plans with other connected devices.
Michele Turner, director at Google’s smart home ecosystem division, couched the partnership as an evolution of Google’s past collaborations with iRobot. The aforementioned i7 has Google Assistant integration — owners can instruct it to clean specific rooms with a voice command.
“Over the past year, we’ve been working hard to make it easier to control all the devices and appliances in your home with the Google Assistant with just your voice,” Turner said in a statement. “We’re excited to be exploring with iRobot how its unique spatial awareness technology can work with the Assistant to offer customers a more intuitive and personalized experience in their homes.”
The idea of robot vacuums sending maps of your home to Google might sound a bit creepy on its face, but Turner explained to the Verge that info sharing will be strictly voluntary, and that none of the collected data will be used for marketing or ad targeting.
“This data doesn’t help current Google products,” Turner said. “This data is not getting fed into some larger morass of Google information.”
This week’s announcement comes roughly a year after iRobot announced it would investigate providing spatial mapping data to smart home companies. In an interview with Reuters, Angle said he expected to find partners within “the next couple of years.”
“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” Angle said.
It’s a wise pivot. While the cleaning robot market is forecast to be worth $4.43 billion by 2023, according to analysts at MarketsandMarkets, the broader smart home sector is projected to grow to $40.9 billion in the next year.
iRobot isn’t the only firm tapping machine intelligence to map apartments and houses, of course. Neato earlier this year announced the Botvac D4 Connected and Botvac D6 Connect, both of which use lidar sensors to detect nearby obstacles. And in September, Dyson announced the 360 Heurist, an autonomous vacuum cleaner with a night vision- and laser-equipped navigation system.
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