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iRobot's Latest Bots Tag-Team Your Cleaning Duties

Steve Symington, The Motley Fool

Just as it promised in April, iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) introduced two new products on Wednesday: the Roomba s9+ robotic vacuum, and the Bravva jet m6 floor-mopping robot.

But make no mistake -- these new high-end bots are more than just incremental updates to their predecessors. Together, they represent arguably the most significant step yet toward iRobot's vision for a closely connected suite of robots that can collaborate to best take care of your home.

To that end, iRobot presented a new cleaning concept today called "Linked clean," through which Roomba and Braava work together by first vacuuming, then mopping your floors without any input required by the user.

iRobot's new Roomba s9+ and Braava jet m6 docked near each other along a baseboard.

IMAGE SOURCE: IROBOT.

This multi-step approach admittedly seems simple at face value. It is, after all, how humans approach the same set of cleaning tasks -- vacuum, then mop.

Years in the making

But it's easy to forget iRobot's latest innovations were quite literally years in the making.

Remember, it was just over five years ago that iRobot first introduced its brushless Aeroforce Extractor system, effectively solving the hair-tangling maintenance issues that plagued older bristle-based models. A year later the company incorporated its proprietary v-SLAM technology into Roomba for the first time, enabling their flagship robotic vacuums to use low-cost cameras for visual navigation and mapping, drastically improving their cleaning efficiency in the process. IRobot then launched voice-activated commands and enhanced mapping features through its HOME App in 2017, and followed by giving its recently launched Roomba i7+ the ability to remember specific rooms and even empty its own bin late last year.

What makes these new robots special

The new Roomba s9+ can do all those things, of course -- and it's worth noting Linked clean also works with the i7+ -- but now the Braava jet m6 will wait patiently for its vacuuming peers to dock before it begins its own cleaning duties.

iRobot also took the opportunity to implement a number of other compelling improvements with its newest bots.

The Roomba s9+ no longer sports the round shape of older Roombas, for example, instead going with a more square front end that allows for better corner cleaning and 30% wider rubber brushes. IRobot also says the Roomba s9+ has up to 40 times the suction power of its legacy 600-series Roombas, and scans its surroundings 25 times per second with a new 3-D sensor to further improve navigation and learn your floor plan. 

Meanwhile, the Braava jet m6 can now clean multiple rooms and larger areas compared to older models, returning to its base to recharge as necessary until the cleaning job is complete. In a bid for increased recurring sales, iRobot sells disposable ($7.99 for a box of seven) or reusable ($24.99 for a box of two) wet and dry Braava cleaning pads.

On pricing, availability

Speaking of prices, these robots won't come cheap. Braava jet m6 will start at $499 on iRobot.com, and arrives at major retailers on June 9, 2019. The Roomba s9 sports the same availability timing with an MSRP of $999 for the robot alone, or $1,299 if you also want the Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal system.

Those high prices won't necessarily come with higher margins, either; iRobot management previously warned that new product launches will come with lower margins relative to the cost-optimized products they're replacing.

But here again -- and keeping in mind we're awaiting the launch of Terra, iRobot's first robotic lawn mower, later this year -- the most important thing is that iRobot continues to move forward its longer-term vision for the home-robotics market. If consumers react positively to the Roomba s9+ and Braava jet m6, it could serve as a massive positive catalyst for iRobot stock in the meantime.

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Steve Symington owns shares of iRobot. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends iRobot. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.