Xiaomi unveiled its Mi Robot Vacuum, the latest addition to its smart home product line, as the company continues to drift further away from its core smartphone business toward a diversified internet hardware ecosystem.

True to Xiaomi’s style, the vacuum’s design takes a minimalist approach to buttons and screens, and true to the style of most Chinese hardware makers, the Mi Robot Vacuum sees itself in neck and neck competition with international flagship models, such as Roomba and Botvac, only cheaper.

The Mi Robot Vacuum will cost RMB 1,700 (about $254 USD) several hundred dollars cheaper than its overseas equivalents.


Xiaomi’s latest vacuum bot


The vacuum in its charging dock


The android covering edges

The protruding round cap on top of the vacuum is a laser distance sensor, which is supposed to scan and gauge the size of the room and obstacles. The robot then comes up with a route of neat rows to complete the task. Though this is trumpeted as Xiaomi’s feat, it’s by no means a unique function. Mapping and navigation is what Neato, a leading brand, has long been proud of. As with most devices in Xiaomi’s smart home product suite ‘Mijia’, the Mi Robot Vacuum is connected to an IoT system and can be activated and monitored on the go, a function that’s also available in its overseas counterparts.

Since the glory days of Xiaomi’s phones, the company has always seen itself as the flag bearer of a movement to breathe new life into the “Made in China” brand. The company’s ventures into the floor sweeping business could be another such attempt. In the past few years, Chinese tourists have been cleaning shelves of department stores in Japan and Korea, lugging home smart electronics. The first items to go out of stock were rice cookers, blow dryers, heated toilet seats, and yes, robot sweepers. 

Even People’s Daily, the party mouthpiece, noticed the shopping spree. In 2015, it published an editorial urging homegrown manufacturing, specifically mentioning rice cookers to make a point. One year after the editorial, Xiaomi launched its own rice cooker within the Mijia product line.

So what next?  Blow dryers?  Toilet seat covers? Air conditioners? Xiaomi hasn’t exactly been exerting itself as a smartphone leader, especially in sales. According to research firm IDCXiaomi’s smartphone sales plunged nearly 40% compared to last years’ second quarter – not exactly something to brag about.

The company has even begun to distribute product catalogues, further emphasizing its image as an appliance – not smartphone – company. Flipping through pages of water filters, rice cookers, blood pressure monitors, and even batteries, it’s easy to get the feeling that Xiaomi’s future looks alarmingly low cost and low tech.

Image credit: Xiaomi

Based in Beijing, April Ma writes on tech trends and covers startups that may (or may not) be the next BATs. Reach her at April.ma@technode.com or Mafangjing (Wechat).

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