Roomba Maker iRobot Expands Fleet With Terra Lawn-Mowing Bot

With its latest consumer robot, iRobot (IRBT) hopes to upend the lawn-mower market the same way its Roomba devices revolutionized the home vacuum cleaner business.

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The Bedford, Mass.-based company on Wednesday introduced its Terra robot mower. The autonomous mulching lawn mower boasts state-of-the-art mapping and navigation technologies as well as high-performance, high-quality mowing.

IRobot started researching robotic lawn mowers over a decade ago, but took its time to get the technology right, iRobot Chief Executive Colin Angle told Investor’s Business Daily.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Angle said. “It’s probably the most asked-for robot.”

Terra learns its environment using iRobot’s Imprint Smart Mapping technology. It then mows in straight back-and-forth lines for the desired striping effect.

The battery-powered mower automatically returns to its base station to recharge. If it needs to complete a mowing job, it remembers where it left off and will resume mowing once charged.

Terra Goes On Sale First In Germany Later This Year

Terra isn’t the first robot lawn mower on the market, but it improves on current devices by eliminating the need for costly and labor-intensive boundary wires. Instead, the iRobot machine uses a wireless communications system, including stand-alone beacons. Users just place the wireless beacons around their yard, drive the robot once around the perimeter with a mobile phone app, and schedule Terra to mow.

Wednesday’s debut is basically a preview of Terra. It will be available for sale first in Germany and as a beta test program in the U.S. later this year. Pricing and availability will be announced at a later date.

The robot lawn-mower market is well-established in Europe, so it makes sense to sell the device there first, Angle said. In Europe, robot lawn mowers are a $ 300 million market. But the U.S. market has the potential to be much larger, he said. European homes tend to have smaller lawns with fewer obstructions like flower beds, Angle said.

Lawn-Mower Market ‘A Roomba-Sized Opportunity’

“We’re not first to market with this, but we’ve been trying to solve the problem and enter at a level of sophistication very different from the level of sophistication we had when we launched the first Roomba,” Angle said. “The brand of iRobot has grown to convey a level of quality and performance.”

With Terra, iRobot wanted easy setup and good reliability, durability and cut quality, he said. Safety features also were a priority. But the hardest technical challenge was the development of the outdoor navigation system, Angle said.

Terra is important to iRobot from a business perspective because it represents “a Roomba-sized opportunity,” Angle said.

In addition to Roomba vacuums, iRobot makes Braava floor-mopping robots and Mirra pool-cleaning robots.

Shares of iRobot slid 2.5% to 84 on Tuesday. IRobot stock has formed a double-bottom base with a buy point of 103.73.

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