This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

July 27, 2005

Beyond Cute

When Roomba was first introduced, one of the reactions was that the application of robotic technology to vacuuming a carpet was “cute.” Since its introduction, 1.3 Million units have been manufactured by iRobot, Burlington Massachusetts. Delighted housewives across the country have enjoyed letting the little robot whirr around cleaning the floor. Sixty percent of Roomba owners have named their valuable labor-saving devices.

The engineers at iRobot Corporation have responded to public interest, perhaps even demand, by designing a sibling to the popular Roomba. Scooba will be introduced to the retail market this Fall. Early indications are that the new version---designed to clean tile, hardwood, and other floors that need a wet wash, not just a vacuuming---will be very popular.

These floor cleaners have been deliberately designed by iRobot engineers to serve the consumer market. An important question---for the company and for us---is whether this technology has commercial application. Employers seeking to increase efficiency and reduce labor costs might want to have an inexpensive robot clean their facilities. Hotels and hospitals might realize impressive productivity gains by teaming humans with cleaning robots.

Greg White, Executive Vice President of iRobot, tells us that Roomba and Scooba were not designed for commercial use. They are engineered to clean residential spaces, then plug into their recharging docks to absorb more energy to continue their work. “Commercial space is usually too large,” White explains. “The technology is not yet strong enough.”

As the labor market tightens, we anticipate that customer demand may encourage iRobot and other designer/manufacturers to develop commercial versions. Imagine closing a retail store, restaurant, or warehouse for the night---with dirty floors. With their new scheduling technology iRobot modified these think-for-themselves cleaning machines to work at pre-programmed times. Employees returning to work in the morning find the floors nice and clean, without the cost of a human cleaning crew.

An insufficient supply of efficient labor inspires new technology. Cleaning floors is but one opportunity. Visit the iRobot site at to learn about these robots, then let your mind wander to emerging uses of this---and other---technologies.

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