iRobot Pokes Its Head Out of the Gutter

Last month, I got wind of news that iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT  ) was planning to unveil a new gutter-cleaning robot. My initial reaction was not favorable. After all, I figured, who in their right mind would spend a lot of money on an expensive robot to do something that: (1) most people don't even do once a year; (2) can be addressed using a simple existing technology -- namely gutter caps; or (3) you could just pay a handyman $50-$75 to do.

What I did not expect was that iRobot's new gutter-cleaning robot, dubbed the Looj, would cost $99. At this price point, the technology actually makes some sense to me. It is affordable for most do-it-yourselfers, more economical than gutter caps such as Gutter Helmet, and only slightly more expensive than a one-time visit from the local handyman.

Now, I still don't think that the Looj is a game-breaker. For starters, the device can't yet handle corners and this means it is not quite the convenience or time-saver that one might have imagined. A user must still climb a ladder at least four times to position the robot to clear the gutters on each side of his house.

Nevertheless, I can see a number of professional gutter cleaners and handypersons buying the Looj because it will allow them to clean gutters faster, and thus make them that much more productive.

I have no idea how many people are in the business of cleaning gutters, but even if the number is modest, the Looj will have the advantage of being visible to people outside the home. And if people see a robot cleaning a gutter, it's possible they might be more inclined to then try an iRobot Roomba or Scooba to sweep and mop their floors.

It is not the strongest argument, but by generating modest sales and creating some favorable PR, the Looj may just be enough to help iRobot out of the gutter and help its stock recover some of the ground it recently gave up when it lost a major battle to supply military robots to the U.S. Army.

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