iRobot Gives Alexa Proactive Control Over Roomba Vacuums
Alexa will get Roombas to proactively clean the room and make fewer mistakes thanks to a new, deeper integration of Amazon’s voice assistant into iRobot’s robot vacuum. Roombas are the first robotic cleaner to add room-specific cleaning voice commands and the Alexa Hunches that let the voice assistant activate smart home devices when the AI deems best.
Roombas started responding to a limited number of Alexa voice commands back in 2017. The new system incorporates many of Alexa’s smart home upgrades that debuted in the years that followed and centered on better conversational AI and more proactive assistance. Alexa’s improved conversational understanding enables more specific place and time cleaning commands. Roomba owners can ask Alexa to tell their device to clean around a piece of furniture or other obstruction and the vacuum’s AI will use the internal map of the room built from previous cleanings to skirt around instead of repeatedly bumping into them. They can also now schedule when they want the vacuum to run, setting specific times or a range like ‘Sunday morning.’
On the proactive side, Roomba has added the Alexa Announcements feature. Roomba can prompt the voice assistant to alert customers through their smart speakers or displays when a job is complete or if there is a problem. The idea is that owners won’t need to be near their phones or supervise the robot to make sure there are no issues. Roomba can also simply start cleaning without any orders at all using the Alexa Hunches feature introduced last year. Alexa analyzes common behavior at home and develops its own suggested schedule for operating smart devices, implementing the decisions once the user agrees to enable the feature. For Roomba, Alexa might work out when people are less likely to be home, and use that hunch to run the vacuum when no one will be interrupted by it.
“Smart home products often fail to live up to consumer expectations because they require complex programming for basic functionality and lack the ability to truly interact with the user,” iRobot CEO Colin Angle said in a statement. “We believe robots should be thoughtful and responsive, and clean according to the user’s unique preferences. The combination of advanced navigation, object identification and advanced voice-enabled technologies lets people interact with them in a more natural way, gaining greater control of their smart home. We’re excited to unlock even more intuitive cleaning and smart home experiences by working with Amazon to integrate cutting-edge voice capabilities.”
The combination of new features cements the robot vacuum’s place in the modern Alexa smart home ecosystem as it continues to evolve. More features formerly exclusive to Amazon devices are now accessible to third-party developers, and Amazon seems eager to get users to train the voice assistant directly. That includes Teachable AI, which lets users directly instruct Alexa about their preferences and the latent goal inference feature for extrapolating what a customer wants. The latent goal inference feature might suggest a timer when asked how long a certain dish takes to cook, for instance. Amazon wants people to tailor their smart home experience to their personal circumstances and trust Alexa to run at least some of the devices independently.
“Technology is at its best when it disappears into the background, allowing you to be more present in the world around you. That’s why we’re inventing for a future where devices, services, and artificial intelligence work together to create proactive and personalized experiences,” said Amazon smart home vice president David Shearer explained. “We are excited to bring these experiences to iRobot customers, adding Alexa capabilities that will allow customers to interact with their cleaning robots in new ways.”