The tech world is about to lose another independent hardware company with Amazon’s planned acquisition of iRobot, whose Roombas pioneered the robot vacuum business two decades ago.

The deal is valued at $1.7 billion, and co-founder Colin Angle will retain his role as CEO of iRobot within Amazon. Neither company has said much about the acquisition other than the thought of a shared desire to make people’s lives easier.

Already, there have been many concerns what Amazon can do with iRobot data. After all, some Roomba vacuums can create detailed maps of your home, and Angle suggested that in 2017 the company might share that information with the tech giants. (He quickly returned the idea.)

But the real fallout with this acquisition isn’t just about the data — of which the tech giants already have plenty — but the loss of another independent company with its own interesting smart home ambitions. While iRobot once had a plan to be the brains of your home, its new mission is likely to be to market more Ring home security subscriptions.

More ambitious plans

iRobot is no longer in the robot vacuum business alone. While it’s still the most popular brand overall, it faces stiff competition from brands like Neato, Eufy, and Ecovacs, which have added their own room mapping, self-emptying, ledge detection, and cleaning features. Hardware alone is no longer a key differentiator.

That might explain why Angle had become vocal about iRobot’s software and services in recent years. In 2020, iRobot announced a software update called “Genius,” heralding the upgrade as a “brain swap” that would make Roombas smarter and more coordinated. With Genius, users will be able to designate specific areas for spot cleaning, or set routines to clean just a handful of commonly messy areas.

Last year, Angle took the idea a step further, claiming that iRobot vacuum cleaners will eventually be able to communicate with other devices around the home. In an interview with Fast company in September, he talked about Roombas acting as roving security cameras, adjusting room lighting based on people’s location and controlling air purifiers based on environmental conditions.

“Delivering Genius is so much more than just making your Roomba work better,” Angle told me last year.

Angle also insisted that Amazon, Apple and Google were disrupting the smart home by trying to integrate with almost every existing product, regardless of how well those integrations worked. (They often don’t work well at all.) As an alternative, Angle envisioned a more curated approach in which the iRobot would work better with a smaller number of connected devices.

“Unlike the Googles, Amazons and SmartThings of the world, I believe in a walled garden,” he said. “I believe that experience trumps universality.”

These ideas seem unlikely to materialize after purchase. While Amazon is clearly interested in home robots — as seen with the ambitious but deeply flawed Astro — its main angle is security, and the company as a whole has focused on surveillance as the centerpiece of its smart home efforts. . One could imagine iRobot dialing back its plans to be the brains of your smart home and instead serving as another set of eyes for Ring home security customers and all the civil rights baggage they carry. keep.

Retracing familiar territory

Of course, this is all just speculation. But it’s informed by what happened the last time Amazon won an ambitious start in the smart home space.

I’m talking, of course, about Eero, a maker of Wi-Fi routers that had its own grand plans to be the brains of your home. Before the acquisition, CEO Nick Weaver talked repeatedly about the computing power Eero had built into its mesh Wi-Fi systems, hinting at how they could help power a future operating system for smart homes.

These plans were never realized. As Rachel Kraus reported for Mashable in 2019, Eero abandoned plans for a home security system for fear of competing with Google and other tech giants and was acquired by Amazon for a disappointing $97 million.

As part of Amazon, Eero continues to develop Wi-Fi routers, but its broader smart home plans mostly exist to feed into the Ring home security device. The Ring Alarm Pro, which launched last year, is essentially an Eero router and a Ring home security base station fused into one product.

Granted, Eero’s flagship routers haven’t suffered under Amazon, and iRobot’s vacuum cleaners aren’t likely to have either. And when combined, they could add up to the kind of ambitious smart home ecosystem that each of the two companies envisioned on their own.

Amazon also seems anxious to quell concerns about data collection, sending out the following statement after the release: “Protecting customer data has always been extremely important to Amazon, and we feel we have been very good stewards of it. people data in all our businesses. Customer trust is something we’ve worked hard to earn – and worked hard to keep – every day.”

Still, it’s sad to see another attempt at an independent platform devolve into that of a tech giant whose primary effort is about keeping you safe from risk — real or perceived — rather than simply add convenience to your life.

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