Add the Roomba to the list of devices that are taking notes on how you live.
A Roomba doesn’t appear to be anything more than a harmless cleaning device, but in this age of connectivity, the dust-busting robots are doing more than picking up dirt as they roam your house. In an effort to maximize efficiency, the robots have been using sensors and boundaries to map the inside of homes. The news was no surprise when it broke two years ago, but that exercise was fairly limited in scope. Users were able to control the robotic vacuums with their smartphones, so it would make sense that the bounds of operation would be mapped and stored.
Now the information gathered by some of the autonomous devices is not only a tool in perfecting the operation of Roombas but a burgeoning asset for the device’s parent company, iRobot. According to a Reuters feature, Colin Angle, the company’s CEO, is betting big that the maps created by some Roombas will be valuable outside iRobot’s business. “There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared," said Angle.
After so many revelations regarding popular consumer electronics, a jaded public might not be taken aback at all by this development
Of course Roombas have become data collection devices that will soon sell maps of our homes. https://t.co/EmbzLKe9H3— Nicholas Thompson (@Nicholas Thompson) 1500992128.0
In March, Roomba became operationally compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, though it seems no deal has been struck yet on the sharing of home-mapping data.
As is so often the case, the data holds more value than a layperson would imagine. The mapping information could ostensibly tell third-parties when the owners are most often home, the shape of rooms, the size of houses, and even the frequency of cleanings. Gizmodo imagines that a room’s shape could be valuable to Amazon as information on the acoustics of a room containing an Alexa device, informing both volume and directional settings so that its broadcasting and microphone can work properly.
In response to a flurry of reports surrounding this news, Mashable followed up with Angle for clarification. He offered:
“iRobot takes privacy and security of its customers very seriously. We will always ask your permission to even store map data. Right now, iRobot is building maps to enable the Roomba to efficiently and effectively clean your home. In the future, with your permission, this information will enable the smart home and the devices within it to work better.”
For those raising an eyebrow at this development, it warrants mentioning that usages such as these are stipulated in the seldom-read terms of service that come with the device.
With all this on the table, we’ll see what Roomba owners value more: their privacy or having a robot clean their floors.