Monday, January 03, 2011

NEW Roomba 700 Series, Scooba 230 Announced by iRobot (!)

iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) announced today that it will introduce all new models of its Roomba and Scooba lines at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The new Roomba 700 Series robots feature AeroVac II vacuum bin with more power, HEPA filtration, 50% better battery life, and improved dirt detection. The new 700 Series models will cost about double the $249 starting price point for the 500 Series Roomba models. (They presumably will supplant the $599 Roomba 610 Professional, which is basically a dressed up 500).

The biggest deal from my investor's perspective is that the price points are going up, which is good for margins and signify confidence on iRobot's part, and that the company is sticking with its cheaper, simpler algorithmic approach to navigation and eschewing the laser-based navigation approach of Neato Robotics XV-11 Robotic Vacuum as well as a version of the Northstar-style technology employed by the Mint Cleaner from Evolution Robotics. Seems to me this gives *A LOT* of breathing room to its competitors to thrive (and Neato recently got millions in additional capital). But it also could cause profitability to soar as well, and its new contract manufacture could help it scale up to levels we simply have not seen (and competitors may be hard pressed to match).

The company also gets a chance to relaunch its Scooba line, which has never quite lived up to its promise or the popularity of the Roomba, with the new, smaller, Scooba 230 (Promo video from iRobot above). The Scooba 230 is expected to cost around $300. The new model is much smaller and therefore better able to navigate tight spaces, like bathrooms. It also appears much easier to clean and store than its larger siblings. It's good for about 150 square feet and one hour of cleaning at a time, and has a brilliant bladder design that keeps clean and dirty water separate without needing the bulk of fixed chambers. In other words, when the clean water exits, the clean water chamber shrinks, and the dirty water bag expands. All of this is out of sight to the consumer, who merely has to add water, empty dirty water, rinse the dirty chamber, and rinse a removable brush plate on the bottom of the new Scooba 230. Can't wait to get my hands on one, but to my mind, this is going to smoke the Mint Cleaner.

The ability to clean bathrooms could be this little guy's killer app. I've used the Scooba in my bathroom, but it misses large chunks because of its bulk. I and others have postulated in the past that a mini-Scooba could do the trick. I could even see this guy cleaning some tubs and showers, which really need it!

Looks like we'll have to wait a few months to actually get our hands on one, and they will apparently will initially be for sale only direct from iRobot to maximize margins, which is consistent with the company's most recent investor conference report.

Here's the official press release.

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