iRobot newcomers tackle gutters and personal relationships

Posted by Mark Raby

New York (NY) - iRobot this week announced two new consumer robot devices, each one taking a big leap from the company's existing product line.

The more interesting of the two is the iRobot Connect Virtual Visiting Robot.  This is the first mass-marketed product from iRobot that has nothing to do with cleaning, and it is literally like something from a science fiction movie.

The device sort of resembles iRobot's flagship Roomba device, except it also includes a microphone and a webcam.  The idea is that users will be able to remotely control the robot while away from home.  By connecting online, users can view the robot's webcam and can even send voice-over IP messages through the device's built-in speakers.

For example, someone on a business trip could log on to iRobot's website, access his Virtual Visiting Robot at home, and carry on video conversations with his family.  The camera has full tilt and zoom functionality.

Also announced this week is the iRobot Looj, a robot designed to clean out gutters.  The 2.5-inch high device has a built-in auger and a self-propelled motor to allow it to clean an entire stretch of gutter on its own.  It can also be manually driven by an included remote control.

iRobot became a commercial success with the launch of the Roomba, a vacuum cleaner that tidies up carpets with little to no human interaction.  Since then around a dozen different Roomba models have surfaced.  The company also sells robots to clean workshop floors, hard tile floors, and swimming pools.

The Looj will be available beginning the fourth quarter of 2007, and will be priced at under $100.  The iRobot Connect will begin rollout in a limited "pilot program", where a certain number of customers will be able to purchase one for around $200.  IRobot says this process will begin by the end of the year, and the product will be available for mass purchase some time in 2008, at around $500.