During the 10th anniversary of the Roomba, iRobot made public a deal to acquire its biggest competitor, Evolution Robotics. On the surface, this purchase means iRobot will be able to take advantage of Evolution Robotic’s dry/wet robotic cleaning technologies, its team of robotics experts, and gain a significant boost in market share.
Under the surface is a fear that acquisitions like these mean less competition in the market. Robotic floor cleaners are just one of many technologies that have improved enough over the past 20 years to become a useful part of the home. I could see a time in the future where we no longer think of cleaning around the home as a task for humans, but for specialized robots that automatically clean with very little (if any) interference from humans.
Unfortunately, competition is a vital component to innovation. If there were just one car manufacturer in the world, would we have vehicles that get 40 miles per gallon, look incredible, and have as many luxury features as the ones in which we drive around today? Hardly. It would be much cheaper to make a bare-bones vehicle with squared angles and very little in the way of options. Competition has made things better for consumers in almost every case.
There are other robotics companies out there, though not many of them are currently making waves in the area of floor cleaning. Right now, the Mint and the Roomba are pretty much the two heavy hitters in that space. If you take the element of competition out of the equation, what incentive does iRobot have to continue to innovate and drive down costs?
The lack of market saturation may actually drive innovation.
One saving grace here might very well be the one thing keeping a Roomba, Scooba, or Mint out of many people’s homes: the technology isn’t quite there just yet. The Roomba still gets trapped under furniture and there is only so much cleaning power you can pack into a robot.
Until the technology reaches the point where it can clean your floors as well as you could on your own, it will probably not be considered a necessary expense. This means iRobot is actually still competing, but against itself.
In reality, the floor cleaners made by Evolution Robotics are actually quite differently from the ones produced by iRobot. It’s quite possible the combination of these companies’ resources will actually result in an increase in innovation — at least in the short term.
Is this acquisition a bad thing for customers? It could be, if iRobot fails to take full advantage of the resources of Evolution Robotics. As soon as the company becomes complacent, the customers are the ones who will suffer the most.
Want a little more info? Take a look at the full press release: iRobot Acquires Evolution Robotics, Inc.