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New Roomba Knows Its Way Around

iRobot on Wednesday unveiled its latest robotic vacuum cleaning system, the Roomba 980.

The device combines adaptive navigation with visual localization, cloud-connected app control and increased cleaning power. It is the most capable model to date, according to the company, which has been a pioneer in robotic cleaning tools.

The Roomba 980 includes new sensors that allow it to create a map of its environment, keeping track of where it’s been and where it needs to go.

“Roomba 980 is the next big step, as it marks iRobot’s first cloud-connected product with mapping capabilities for the consumer market,” iRobot CEO Colin Angle said.

“Leveraging the cloud and mapping technologies, robots gain a better understanding of their environment, and customers are provided with more control,” he added. “Looking ahead, these technologies will also enable expanded capabilities for connected robots in the smart home.”

The Roomba 980 became available Thursday in the United States and Canada for US$899; it will launch in Japan and Europe later this year.

Clean Sweep

Users can connect the 980 to a home WiFi network and schedule its chores to avoid interference with other activities. They can control it via an Android or iOS app that provides updates on cleaning status, tips for using the device, and direct access to customer support.

“Since it was introduced, [the Roomba] has been increasingly packed with some cool technology,” said Susan Schreiner, senior analyst with C4 Trends.

“The Roomba is a good solution for those who need a cleaning service or something that helps users maintain their homes. If you can afford it, the Roomba is a great assistant,” she told TechNewsWorld.

The Market for Robot Assistants

In addition to robotic vacuums, iRobot also has developed the Looj gutter cleaner. Other companies, including Husqvarna and John Deere, have introduced autonomous lawn mowers.

The Mowbot actually was developed in the 1960s. It failed to catch on, but the market now may be catching up with the vision.

“Robots do seem to be getting more common,” said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

There are now “unmanned lawn mowers patrolling neighborhood lawns, and indoor robots tidying up the floors,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They’re not for everyone, but a certain slice of technophiles like them, especially as a conversation piece.”

Robots for the Masses

The success of robots that can tackle mundane tasks could depend on managing expectations.

“There are cultural differences in what a robot should look like and do,” noted C4 Trends’ Schreiner, “and the American and Japanese views are still different. As a result, robots are entering our lives in different ways and with different form factors. Right now, these are for the cutting-edge gadget lover, but eventually there could be a robot to handle our daily tasks.”

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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