Home robotics at CES 2012

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CES 2012

CES 2012 is over, and finally I've managed to publish all my content about the show. Although I have covered the products of 15 companies, there were no real breakthroughs in Las Vegas this year. iRobot was only there to have meetings with business partners, Evolution Robotics has participated only at a pre-show event, and Neato, probably the most innovative opponent of iRobot didn't come to Vegas at all.

Samsung and LG, the two largest robot makers in South Korea had the exact same robots on display that they already demoed in previous trade shows. Although LG has started the sales of a several year old model in the US, but without the PR and marketing efforts, that project is destined to fail. Samsung is still at the stage of finding partners to market the product in the US. Although some of the smaller South Korean manufacturers have had new products, none of these were finalized and ready to ship.

Chinese manufacturers, especially Ecovacs are taking the market seriously, but not in the US. They are at the same stage as most of the Korean manufacturers: still looking for partners to sell their products to.

Unfortunately this means that iRobot is still without a serious competitor that could push iRobot to bring their innovations to market. Home robotics has evolved little in the last ten years, and it seems that 2012 will not bring change to this. Manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Ecovacs, Neato and Evolution Robotics have to get serious, otherwise their investments will vaporize without serious returns. There are still so many problems to solve in home robotics, but without growing sales, larger market penetration and ongoing competition none of these companies will succeed. What's the purpose of demonstrating cool gadgets if they never reach the market, anyway?

Domestic robots need to become smarter and even more autonomous. The obvious next step, what a few of the companies have already taken, is to use mapping and localization. One benefit of using such a technique is to finish the job in less time, using less energy and with less wear on the product, but it is also a requirement for the ability to effectively cover larger areas. Neato, Evolution Robotics, Samsung, LG and Yujin has already introduced their SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) systems, but while these robots are not available worldwide, iRobot is not forced to take this next step. The other important problem that nearly all manufacturers will have to solve is regular maintenance. If I have to spend 5 minutes with my robot every day, I will eventually give up using it. Although 5 minutes is not a long time, but it adds up to more than half an hour every week. Most people probably don't spend more than that on vacuuming in a week, so to them robotics won't help a lot. Self emptying dust bins seem to be the right way to go, but only if it can reduce the frequency of required maintenance to one occasion per week (or one per two weeks). Ecovacs and Samsung are on the lead in this with their self emptying dust bin designs, the latter one even has a technique to automatically clean the brushes.

I believe that everything is given for domestic robots to succeed, but it needs to be taken a little more seriously by the manufacturers. Bring these new technologies to all markets and prove to the people that these gadgets are not toys anymore, but real home appliances. Like the dish washer or the washing machine.

Disagree? Have an argument? I would like to hear your opinion about the subject.

Comments

Yes, you are right. But let me say something. I use my roomba about once every two days, and yes, I spend 5 minutes to get it clean after his journey. But it's a lot different to clean a brush sitting down on the sofa than vacuuming with an heavy appliance like a normal vacuum machine. Maybe the time spent to clean the robots are the same that you can use to vacuum by yourself, but it's an easy work to do, sometimes i found it almost fun.
I'm agree with you when you say that auto-clean is the next step to involve, Karcher made this more than 10 years ago, and the product was amazing for that period! I'm really curious to try the Deebot D76 to see this feature, and how the brushes get dirt with the auto-clean.
Consider also that iRobot will have problems introducing the auto-clean just because the design of the roomba it's not good for this technology, they have to redesign the entire robot, and in Italy we use to say: "don't change the winning team"...

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