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iRobot Gobbles up Evolution Robotics for $74M

September 18, 2012 | Telepresence Options


September 17, 2012 by Lance Ulanoff

Guess what Roomba got for its 10th birthday? A nice, shiny new company to play with.

iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba robotic vacuum will acquire competitor Evolution Robotics for $74 million in cash, according to a joint announcement.

Though iRobot went public in 2005 and Evolution Robotics remains a privately-held company, the two companies have otherwise followed a somewhat similar trajectory for the last decade. Both are run by scientists -- Evolution by Dr. Paolo Pirjanian, iRobot by co-founder Colin Angle, who graduated from MIT. Both companies build consumer-focused robotics products and technologies, which include home-cleaning robots.

Evolution Robotics developed the Sony Aibo robotic dogs' image recognition technology as well as NorthStar indoor GPS, a navigation system it later applied to its Mint Robotic floor cleaner.

Meanwhile, iRobot launched the popular Roomba robot vacuum line. It later introduced its own robotic floor mop, the Scooba. The company also produces a line of military robots. Earlier this year it unveiled a healthcare telepresence robot, the RP-VITA (Remote Presence Virtual + Independent Telemedicine Assistant).

Now iRobot plans to mash together the two firms' IP and engineering talent to help accelerate iRobot's R&D.

"Evolution Robotics' products will expand our automated floor care offerings, while its technology and intellectual property will bring visual navigation and simultaneous localization and mapping, among other technologies, which could be deployed in future iRobot products to deliver greater customer value," said Angle in a statement.

Pirjanian, whom we interviewed earlier this year (see video below), will stay on at iRobot as the company's new Chief Technology Officer.

For now, iRobot will continue to sell Evolution's line of Mint Automatic Floor Cleaners. These intelligent devices differ in their cleaning approach from iRobot's Scooba. iRobot has always favored integrated navigation smarts, while Evolution's devices rely on beacons to help them figure out location and room mapping.

Also, while iRobot's Scooba uses onboard solution and water to mop the floor, Evolution's Mint relies on third-party Swiffer pads.

iRobot representatives told us that they will evaluate the company's "entire product mix, technologies and distribution" over the next six to nine months. We'll soon find out which cleaning method survives.

The two companies expect to complete the acquisition process before the end of this year.

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