They vacuum the carpet, mop the floor, mow the lawn, and weed the garden. Over the past decade, household robots have become America’s Rosie the Maid. And consumers have gladly given them free reign of house and home. Unbeknownst to most, though, is that Rosie (or at least certain high-end models of iRobot’s Roomba) has been secretly mapping out their floor plan. And now iRobot wants to sell those maps to companies who make smart-home devices, including Apple, Google, and Amazon. Presumably to make smart-home technology better.
Since 2015, Roomba’s 900-series robovacs have used cameras and infrared sensors, known as Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (SLAM) technology, to accurately map the layout of a room and avoid slamming into stuff. It knows where the couch sits and to turn left at the coffee table. That information in the AI brains of smart-home devices like IKEA lights or the Apple HomePod, so the argument goes, would make them more effective. Nest’s new face-recognizing IQ camera, for example, would have a better idea of where to focus its eyes.
“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,” iRobot chief executive, Colin Angle, recently told Reuters. Angle said that the company, which controls 80 percent of the North American household robotics market, as well as 18 percent of US vacuum market, hopes to begin selling the data within the next few years.
Privacy experts, not surprisingly, have raised concerns, noting that access to that data is essentially like inviting marketers into your home to case the joint. One can only imagine the targeted advertising for household or baby products that ensues once retailers know you have a nursery littered with toys.
Still, Angle notes that no data would be sold without consumer’s permission, which could be tied to advanced functionality of the robot. Considering the rapid growth of smart home devices that record your voice or track your movements, it doesn’t appear that consumers are too concerned with privacy issues. Whether or not they object to Google knowing they don’t have an ottoman, however, is anybody’s guess.