IRobot Corp. chief executive Colin Angle has long talked about how he wants iRobot to play a key role in “smart home” technology, beyond making robots that scurry around customers’ floors and clean up their messes.
On Thursday, Angle publicly announced the Bedford-based company’s first acquisition to broaden its smart-home portfolio, with a deal to acquire air purifier provider Aeris Cleantec AG. IRobot is paying at least $72 million for the Swiss company, Angle said. Its two cofounders and nearly 30 employees have joined iRobot, and the business will adopt the iRobot brand over time.
IRobot’s higher-end Roomba vacuum cleaners can make digital maps of customers’ homes. Angle plans to roll out software within the next year that will allow Roomba owners to use their robots’ mapping skills to figure out the best places to run air purifiers and when to run them. Angle said his leadership team has been studying various products to take advantage of digitally connected homes beyond cleanup robots and eyeing possible acquisitions, to expand iRobot into everything from security to energy efficiency to health. This Aeris acquisition, which falls under the “health” category, is their first such deal.
“I was on the lookout for great companies that had innovative solutions that were consistent with iRobot’s brand and the vision for the smart home,” Angle said. “Vacuum cleaning and mopping are the two lead dogs right now. Over time, there are opportunities for technological solutions as well.”
Aeris chief executive Pierre Bi said he launched his business in 2015 with cofounder Constantin Overlack, inspired in part because of the need to counter smog that affected their living space when they were in Beijing. The company generated about $8 million in revenue last year, he said, and is on track to roughly double that amount this year. He said Aeris purifiers successfully achieve high airflow, to cover more space in the house, while improving filtration efficiency, or the amount of pollutants that can get captured effectively by the filter. Usually, he said, these two important demands of the machines work at odds with each other.
In 2017, iRobot acquired overseas distributors of its products, in Europe and Japan. The last acquisition that did not involve a distributor was in 2012 when iRobot purchased Evolution Robotics, which brought with it the Braava line of robotic mops, according to an iRobot spokesman.
The Aeris deal is iRobot’s first acquisition that doesn’t involve actual robots, though Angle hinted it might be viewed differently over time.
“We’ll let history decide whether the things we are building with Pierre count as robots,” Angle said. “[But] this is the ‘least robot’ thing we’ve ever acquired.”