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Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner

iRobot, the company behind the Roomba automatic floor vacuum, has turned their attention to China, setting up an office in Shanghai and seeking local investment opportunities. The company is seeking to grow its presence in the market, and lower manufacturing costs for their brand of home robots, the same formula that saw Xiaomi build a multi-billion USD ‘smart home’ empire.

“There is a strong startup culture in China, and we would be pleased to be closer to companies working on robotics. Not only to provide early stage funding, but we would also like to work as a strategic partner to share resources and bring down the cost of manufacturing,” Glen Weinstein, executive vice president of iRobot home robots told TechNode.

Last month, the company sold their defense and security robot business to Arlington Capital Partners, to wholly focus on the consumer robotic market.

Headquartered in US, iRobot has subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and now the company is establishing a branch in Shanghai with a dedicated sales and marketing team to focus on the China market; something they have not done in markets outside the US.

“I see two different ideas when talking about robotics in China. On one side, there is a government push to lead the automation of robots in the workplace and reduce the necessity of labor in manufacturing; that trend is accelerating. The other trend we see is consumer robotics. China is becoming the world’s largest market for the robots we make, robots that empower people to do more around the home. Increasing our penetration in the China market is a core part of iRobot’s global strategy,” says Mr. Weinstein.

Mr. Glen Weinstein

Glen Weinstein, executive vice president of iRobot

According to the company, iRobot’s square-shaped hard floor cleaning robot Braava comprises 10 % of its global sales volume, while round-shaped home sweeping robot Roomba takes 90%. In China, these products that are designed in the US  of the market through Chinese popular commerce sites like Tmall and JD.com. Without localization functions, the products are globally identical.

“Now, we are just entering the robot revolution, which is very different from past computer revolution and mobile revolution. The robot revolution is not about manipulating data; it’s about technology manipulating physical objects in the world.” he added.

The home robot market is heating up with a handful of Chinese players, including dancing robot Alpha 2, egg-shaped Rokid, and child-friendly Pudding. These robots commonly play an entertainment role to mingle with family members, educate children, or guard the home. However, Mr. Weinstein says iRobot will stick to building home maintenance robots.

“Eventually, homes will take care of themselves. We will focus on building robots that can perform practical tasks rather than bringing in entertainment value.” Mr. Weinstein states.

Currently, Roomba 980 can be remotely manipulated using an Android and iOS-based app, but is not yet available in the Chinese market.

Image Credit: iRobot