Sweeping with the enemy

A few years ago, in an article with the funny title “My Roomba is Rambo”, a group of researchers wrote argued that there are advantages when people can develop intimate relationships with technology—i.e. deep ties that inspire and engage people to interact with and accommodate a system. They just happened to use a Roomba to test their ideas:

Robots have entered our domestic lives, but yet, little is known about their impact on the home. This paper takes steps towards addressing this omission, by reporting results from an empirical study of iRobot’s Roomba™, a vacuuming robot. Our findings suggest that, by developing intimacy to the robot, our participants were able to derive increased pleasure from cleaning, and expended effort to fit Roomba into their homes, and shared it with others.

The more intimate the relationship, the juicier the information involved. And last week iRobot CEO Colin Angle, talking to Reuters suggested that dirt is not the only thing Roombas are sucking up:

Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to share its maps for free with customer consent to one or more of the Big Three in the next couple of years. Angle added the company could extract value from those agreements by connecting for free with as many companies as possible to make the device more useful in the home.

The news triggered an outcry, and Angel had to step back. In another interview, he denied having suggested anything and he claimed Reuters fell victim to a “misinterpretation” of his remarks.

First things first, iRobot will never sell your data. Our mission is to help you keep a cleaner home and, in time, to help the smart home and the devices in it work better.

Frankly, It does not sound very convincing because iRobot is working to build an ecosystem of robots and data to enable the smart home. Furthermore, what Angle thinks does not matter too much, because there is an unwritten law in technology: everything that can be connected will be connected, and all the data that can be collected will be collected. And iRobot, with a market cap of less than $2.94B, might be a sweet acquisition for one of the data-hungry smart home’s fat cats.

So the question is whether you have the guts, and you will continue to sleep… er, sweep with the enemy.


(1) Sung, Ja-Young, Lan Guo, Rebecca Grinter, and Henrik Christensen. “My Roomba is Rambo: intimate home appliances.” UbiComp 2007: Ubiquitous Computing (2007): 145-162.

Featured image: Terry Robinson, Roomba Tracks

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