There’s a robot in my living room!
iRobot launches in the UAE
April 29, 2014 3:35 by Nasreen Rasool
Which would you prefer: a mop for AED60, a maid for AED35 per hour or a vacuum-cleaning robot for AED4,000?
I am not a tech-head, neither am I a techno-geek or whatever they are called these days. I am more of a reluctant technologist. So as impressive as the iRobot’s Roomba 800 was, I still came away from the demonstration last week feeling slightly sceptical. What if it malfunctions? What if it’s not as user friendly as the company claims? Will it be worth the investment?
iRobot Corporation’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Marc Dinee, answered one of those questions when he dropped the poor thing on the floor. The snazzy black Roomba 800 (surprisingly unlike the robots we’ve ever seen in the movies) seemed unharmed and continued vacuuming quite happily, while his face turned bright pink. According to Dinee, the company’s official UAE website, irobot.ae, will launch in mid May, allowing customers to buy online and access after-sales support.
Using something called ‘iAdapt’ technology, the vacuum-cleaning robot has ‘Cliff Detectors’ so it can detect the edge of a surface and stop before it falls off. ‘Escape Behaviour’ allows it to free itself when trapped in corners or between furniture. The Roomba 800 can tell the difference between something that is hard and something that is fluffy. It has soft touch censors and will vacuum around people. The only thing it can’t do yet is climb stairs. Oh, yes, and not everything is automated – you still have to clean out the bin manually.
One battery has a life span of three to five years, depending on the frequency of use. One cleaning cycle lasts 45 minutes, after which the robot returns to its docking station and recharges itself.
The other innovation launched by iRobot was the Scooba 450, which scrubs floors, while separating clean and dirty water, unlike the traditional bucket mopping, which, according to Marc, spreads frightening amounts of bacteria. However, the device took awfully long to clean a small amount of ketchup off the table. In those cases, a quick mop would be better, while iRobot would work best on a large area.
Both robots work almost as easily with as one push of a button. There is a small amount of programming involved, so that users can set the device to work at a certain time each day. They also work with small signalling devices called ‘Lighthouses’, which send out tracking signals, so that they know which room to clean next or which room they should stay in.
Robot technology may be new to the UAE, but has actually been around for years. Colin Angle founded iRobot in Massachusetts in 1990. It has sold ten million robots in 50 countries, which is still a small percentage – less than two per cent of households worldwide – according to Marc. “Sales will start small, mainly through direct marketing, as we still have to educate the market. Thereafter, we will move into retail stores. It may take years for the costs to stabilise,” he says. On the question of affordability, he adds: “It depends on what you define as affordable.” The tentative starting price of the product is AED3,888.
Robots are already being used in the public safety sector and healthcare. iRobot will be deploying its robots to assist with security at the 2014 World Cup. The next innovation to look forward to, according to Marc, is robots with visual mapping technologies.
“It’s not a big bang,” says Marc, commenting on the slow, but steady, growth of the robot market. He estimates that there would be a ten per cent growth in the UAE market by 2017. Also, he adds that the company chose to launch in the UAE because the floors were ideally suited to the product and because of its diverse industry. “Now, robots make up ten per cent of the total traditional vacuum cleaner market in Europe. Some of the biggest markets for consumer robotics are in France, Germany and Spain,” he adds.
“Robots are here to stay,” according to Marc, which may be sad news for the five per cent of the population that likes to mop. He adds that many of iRobot’s customers have personal names for their robots, taking their relationships to another level. “People name their robots, which is a sign that robots have integrated into the family circle. But we are very far away from Star Wars. We are very practical.”