iRobot CEO Colin Angle has plans for the Internet of Things, and they include turning your Roomba vacuum cleaner into a mapmaker.
As reported in recent weeks by Mashable, Wired, and others, Angle believes the best benefits of the IoT require smart devices to do more than connect and share data with one another. They also need to understand the physical space of the home and how that space is used in our daily lives.
Later this year, Angle says iRobot will release a product that uses small, inexpensive cameras and a cloud-based algorithm to map the home and recognize objects like appliances and furniture. By understanding where these objects live in relation to one another, Angle intends to create a new kind of home automation platform—one that watches how you move about your home and makes context-based decisions to control the rest of your smart gadgets. It’s the difference between using an app to dim the lights and turn on the TV, or having those things happen the moment you plop down on the couch.
iRobot’s machine vision system is called vSLAM, a visual adaptation of the expensive laser-based technologies for “Simultaneous Localization and Mapping” that are used in some self-driving cars. Using cheap webcams is key to making iRobot’s product affordable. As the bot trundles between rooms and hallways, its cameras will connect to a cloud server that can handle the thorny calculations required to extract a floorplan from the stream of images.
The new product may or may not be a Roomba, but Angle has hinted that it will be compatible with the company’s existing products, so a Roomba add-on seems likely. And a robot vacuum cleaner, which already has free run of the house, is a natural fit for digital cartography.
iRobot is not the only company interested in indoor mapping, however. 9to5Mac recently reported that Apple has deployed a fleet of Roomba-sized robotsequipped with Bluetooth-based iBeacons to test a system for mapping out public buildings. But beacon technology will only help with positioning; it won’t do the visual object recognition that iRobot’s cloud platform can provide.
On the other hand, giving any cloud service access to a detailed layout and thousands of images of the inside of your home raises a number of privacy and security issues. So think twice before you ask your vacuum cleaner to start looking around.
Check out the video below to see the world through iRobot’s eyes.