In the past couple of weeks there’s been much discussion about a partnership in the tech realm, with iRobot and Google announcing they had teamed up to better map the smart home.
The move will see iRobot’s latest Roomba vacuum cleaner gather data about the spatial dimensions of the home and offers the potential to locate other smart home items in a bid to streamline smart home set up and living.
So, let’s look at what’s involved…
iRobot is basically a smart home tech company specialising in robots that clean the floors of your home. Its major products include smart vacuum cleaners and smart mops that roll about the home cleaning up after your family.
Established 25 years ago, the company says it has now sold 15 million robots worldwide, and arguably its most popular is the Roomba vacuum cleaner.
Now iRobot is looking to hone its products with spatial mapping of the homes it cleans. So, basically it will learn and memorise the layout of a house, and then names can be assigned to each area.
As one of the world’s largest tech companies, Google is making some serious headway in the smart home arena due to its voice assistant, smart speakers and the recent addition of its Smart Home hub.
Essentially Google’s specialty lies in speech recognition and voice control, so in the connected smart home you can tell your smart phone, smart speaker or Home Hub “Hey Google, what are the news headlines?” and they will be read or played to you, or “Hey Google, turn on the kitchen lights” and, using smart switches and lighting, those lights will come on.
The challenge however lies in knowing what devices are where for Google to switch on, and this is where the partnership between iRobot and Google comes into play.
Announcing the initiative on October 31, iRobot said the collaboration with Google was designed to “integrate robotic and smart home technologies that will advance the next-generation smart home”.
“Consumer robots like the iRobot Roomba® i7+ robot vacuum are ideally suited to enable intuitive and personalized smart home experiences based on an ability to learn a home’s floor plan,” iRobot said.
“With Imprint™ Smart Mapping, the Roomba i7+ remembers multiple floor plans and room names so users can customise cleaning jobs. Using the Google Assistant, users can also direct the robot to clean a specific room with a simple voice command, like ‘Hey Google, clean the kitchen’.”
In layman’s terms, this sees the latest iRobot use a combination of odometry by measuring how far its wheels move, and low-res Camera imagery to see what’s where. The maps can then be used to set up specific cleaning schedules or to use Google Assistant to tell the iRobot to clean a specific room.
iRobot CEO Colin Angle further explained that it was his desire to impact people’s lives by becoming part of the technological ecosystem of people’s homes.
The maps could also be used to locate items like smart lighting, and could then automatically assign names and locations to lights in specific rooms, like the bedroom, the kitchen or the loungeroom.
“This idea is that when you say, ‘OK Google, turn the lights on in the kitchen,’ you need to know what lights are in the kitchen,” Mr Angle said.
“And if I say, ‘OK future iRobot robot with an arm, go get me a beer,’ it needs to know where the kitchen and the refrigerator are.”
Meanwhile, he said that working together would allow iRobot and Google to be on the lookout for additional ways to integrate their platforms, providing customers with the choice to opt into new innovative smart home experiences that leverage a broader understanding of the home’s space.
“iRobot is delivering products that help people keep a cleaner and smarter home,” Mr Angle said.
“Robots with mapping and spatial awareness capabilities will play an important role in allowing other smart devices in the home to more seamlessly work together. We’re looking forward to working with Google to explore new ways to enable a more thoughtful home.”
Welcoming the partnership, Google Smart Home Ecosystem director Michele Turner, noted:
“Over the past year, we’ve been working hard to make it easier to control all the devices and appliances in your home with the Google Assistant with just your voice.
“We’re excited to be exploring with iRobot how its unique spatial awareness technology can work with the Assistant to offer customers a more intuitive and personalised experience in their homes.”
What about privacy?
At great pains to reassure the public that Google would not receive layout or specific room location information, Google said the data would be opt-in only and would purely be used to improve the smart home experience.
“This data doesn’t help current Google products. This data is not getting fed into some larger morass of Google information,” Google told The Verge.
Instead, the maps could be used to locate products like Wi-Fi-connected lighting, automatically assigning names and locations to lights in a customers’ bedroom, kitchen, and so on.
“Much like assigning smart lights or other smart devices to rooms in the home, the Assistant only learns what names people have given to areas of their homes, so that it can then deploy the iRobot i7+ to that area,” Google stated.
“We do not receive any information on the layout of the home or where the areas are, respectively.”
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