What does buying an Amazon iRobot mean to consumers

In the 1960s cartoon “The Jetsons,” there’s that moment when mom, Jane, presses a button and a little blue robot starts cleaning the living room. She cleaned the ashtray and poured her a cup of coffee.

The Jetsons was created in 2062, and parts of the smart home you imagined — including vacuum cleaners and video calls — became a reality.

For the past 20 years, robotic vacuum cleaners known as Roombas have been roaming our homes, confusing our cats as they suck on dirt, along with the occasional socks. Amazon, the Marketplace insurer, announced Friday that it will buy the manufacturer of those Roombas, iRobot, for $1.7 billion. IRobot also sells robotic wipers, air purifiers, and parts to keep these machines running.

And during the pandemic, robots have performed many tasks.

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“This is a tipping point,” said Robin Murphy, a robotic scientist at Texas A&M University.

She led a study that found that people are becoming more comfortable using robots to do things like disinfect surfaces and deliver food during the pandemic.

“We’ve really seen in the last couple of years that robots are looking for something you might have for military or highly specialized uses, but now it seems like, oh, yeah, sure, robots are everywhere,” she said.

This includes smart assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa.

The smart home device market grew nearly 12% last year worldwide, and Amazon was the market leader in the United States.

Adam Wright of research firm IDC said Amazon’s acquisition of iRobot means Alexa can control a home army of Roombas.

“[Alexa could] Say, “Hey, you know, we see there’s an event coming up on your calendar. You should probably turn on your bot and clean the house before you have visitors.”

All those robotic brooms and mops will also provide Amazon with more data about, say, the design of customers’ living rooms.

“Consumers are concerned about digital privacy and security,” Wright said. “But more often than not, we are happy to push these concerns to the back of our minds in favor of convenience.”

And consumers today, unlike Jane Jetson, know that they are paying for this convenience with personal data.

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