iRobot launches new Roomba: Five innovation lessons

iRobot launches new Roomba: Five innovation lessons

Summary: The new Roomba 880 ditches the traditional vacuum cleaner brush. Why? iRobot is on a mission to cut down on two customer pain points: maintenance and cleaning frequency.

TOPICS: CXO, Emerging Tech

iRobot has launched its latest Roomba, a high-end 880 series vacuum with a new cleaning system dubbed Aeroforce and a bevy of tweaks based on customer feedback.


While I've tried the Roomba 880 and found it handy, the real story to me revolves around how iRobot thinks and approaches its products. The company started out making military robots, then got into its iconic Roomba and now has healthcare robots too.

In other words, iRobot is a fun company to watch and its main value proposition is adding some time back to your life with fewer chores. 

Here are some innovation takeaways from iRobot:

Innovation is company and customer specific. The Roomba's Aeroforce is a brushless system that breaks down debris and lifts dirt with less maintenance. Max Makeev, product manager at iRobot, said the company decided to tackle the traditional vacuum cleaner bristle design based on customer pain points---maintenance and cleaning frequency. Simply put, Aeroforce means that the Roomba doesn't get caught up with hair as much. And since Aeroforce's housing is smaller, the Roomba 800 can store more dirt. Given Roomba's small footprint, developing a brushless system was critical relative to other vacuums. Product pain points are discovered via iRobot's call center as well as inquiries and surveys.

Focus on big issues for customers. Innovation means knocking down the big things for customers, said Makeev. As noted, performance and maintenance were two of the biggest issues for Roomba customers. With each product launch, iRobot has aimed to improve on those two items. "We aim to give back time to our customers," said Makeev. By cutting down on maintenance Roomba customers can program the robot and move on to bigger things.

Organization. iRobot has a central engineering, operations and marketing and sales teams. These groups share information across them, but iRobot's divisions---in the Roomba's case the home unit---are responsible for innovating on the product front. After all, R&D for home robots is very different than government clearances needed for military applications.

Time to innovate. Maleev said that solving a product/customer challenge can take anywhere from two to three years start to finish. The Roomba enhancements took about two years, said Maleev.

The testing process. For the latest Roomba, engineers test prototype robots internally and then the product is moved into beta in multiple countries. For instance, iRobot selected 61 customers in four countries to give the latest Roomba a spin. That testing phase was in addition to other Roomba 880s in the field.

Topics: CXO, Emerging Tech

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  • The problem with Roomba ....

    ... it does a less than mediocre job at what it was designed to do. The thing doesn't clean at all.
    • re:

      I just got a Roomba 770 and it works surprisingly well. I actually didn't expect much and figured I would return it when it didn't work. Between us, my girlfriend and I have four hissing hair factories (cats). The Roomba goes under tables, beds, and sofas. It changes course before if falls down stairs or into the sunken living room. It handles both hardwood floors and berber carpet. Sure, you have to empty it out and remove hair from the rolling parts every couple of uses, but that's easy. It's pretty much just set it going on its mission and forget it.
      Sir Name
  • Dirt and Electronics Don't Mix

    I was one of the early adopters. Hopefully, they have improved. Back then, it seemed that dirt and electronics did not mix. The optical sensors would regularly get clogged and the thing would start spinning in circles. Some of those sensors were hidden and inaccessible to all but the most industrious of users. It was great when it worked, which was not often enough. The other issue was the battery and its short life span. It was not long before it would run out of juice 10 minutes after charging.
  • I just read review...

    I just read review on Amazon where owner praised his roomba saying something like "...roomba runs every day and now I only have to vacuum once a week...". What is the point of roomba if one still has to vacuum every week? I guess roomba is good only for cat and dog owners. Everybody else can get super-awesome vacuum for less than half the money.

    Then there is issue with choice. I just went to the store and they had 4 roomba models. Prices were different but they all looked the same and there was no information about differences between them. There was just generic stuff that did not make much sense and could not explain $100-200 difference between models. On one box I read that this vacuum is good for pet owners. So, I figured that particular model was useless for people without pets or in other words it was just a crappy vacuum. Other models had no useful information whatsoever. So here is innovation lesson #6. If you sell more than one thing then make it easy to compare.