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Will iRobot Stop Cleaning Up on Dyson's 360 Eye Arrival?

Zacks Equity Research

iRobot Corporation’s (IRBT) award winning flagship Roomba, is facing an ominous threat as British vacuum cleaner giant Dyson marks its foray into the robot vacuum cleaner market with its 360 Eye automated robot cleaner that claims to be more powerful, effective and intelligent than Roomba and other smart floor cleaners. It is slated to launch in Japan later this year but does not plan to hit the North American market until fall 2015.

What Makes Dyson 360 Eye a Game Changer?

The Dyson 360 Eye, that took 16 years and an investment of around $47 million, is equipped with a 360-degree panoramic camera that can “see” an entire room and navigate accordingly. The camera captures up to 30 frames per second. These images are then processed by the internal software to assess the room's geometry and potential obstacles. The 360-degree panoramic camera is a breakthrough in the field of robotic vacuum cleaners, given that most of the other robotic vacuum cleaners are only equipped with some sensor system to look or feel around a room.

The 360 Eye also employs a set of flexible tank treads that will help it to climb over smaller obstacles enabling it to easily transition between rooms with subtle lips, ledges, or steps.

Dyson’s robotic vacuum is equipped with the cyclone technology and a full-width brush bar to suck up dirt and dust. As per the company, its powerful digital motor provides it with a suction capacity higher than that of any robotic vacuum. Dyson's 360 Eye can also be controlled by an app available on the iOS and Android platforms, which will enable users to schedule their cleaning. It also enables the user to view maps of cleaning progress

Dyson claims that its new vacuum cleaner is superior to the competing products available in the market and will outscore them on the following grounds - its unique camera system which enables it to better map the area to be vacuumed, its suction that is more powerful at sucking up dirt and a powerful lightweight digital motor that enhances battery life.

What Does This Mean for Roomba?

iRobot's Roomba has so far ruled the roost in the intuitive, higher-end robot vacuum space. Since the launch of Roomba in 2002, iRobot has sold more than 10 million home robots globally. Four generations of Roomba have been introduced so far with a few differing models in each of them. Although more and more robotic vacuum cleaner brands have been introduced in the market by players like LG Electronics and Samsung, they have not been able to the cut Roomba’s market share, which continues to be a household name.

Robotic floor cleaners have proved to be one of the fastest-growing consumer products in the past few years, and iRobot has capitalized on the demand. In such an evolving robot vacuum cleaner market, Dyson’s 360 Eye camera is surely a breakthrough, providing it with a competitive edge. However, it is a bit early to determine the extent of the competitive threat to Roomba, given that Dyson’s product is yet to be used in a real-world environment.

Dyson’s new robot is also taller than Roomba, which might make it a bit difficult for it to clean under low furniture. Moreover, pricing is an important factor as Dyson has not officially set a price as of now. If the company sets at a higher price for the product, customers will opt for the more economical and successful Roomba.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how Dyson’s new cleaner is received in Japan, the biggest market in the world for robotic vacuums. Roomba is already a market leader in Japan commanding around 80% share of the Japanese market for robot cleaners.

Following the footsteps of Roomba, local electronics companies have also been developing robot cleaners with unique functions For instance, Sharp Corp.’s Cocorobo has voice communications, while Toshiba Corp.’s Torneo Robo automatically dumps dust into a box built into the charging dock. Home robots have been the key growth driver for iRobot. In this highly competitive market, it is expected that iRobot will not be far behind in bringing some innovation to Roomba to topple Dyson.

iRobot currently holds a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better stocks that are performing well and are worth considering in the sector include Macquarie Infrastructure Company LLC (MIC), Federal Signal Corp. (FSS) and ITT Corp. (ITT). While Macquarie Infrastructure holds a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), Federal Signal and ITT carry a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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