For the past 17 years, millions of people around the world have grown accustomed to letting their Roomba robotic vacuums clean their homes. But at long last, this morning iRobot (IRBT -2.13%) unveiled a worthy outdoor counterpart to its flagship product line called Terra, its first-ever robotic lawn mower.
A massive opportunity
To be clear, it was no mystery iRobot was working on a robotic lawn mower solution.
In fact, I've literally waited years for this press release to hit my inbox. In 2015, I noted iRobot singled out the global pushmower and robotic lawn mower industry as a $4.6 billion annual market opportunity. And even before then, the company piqued my interest months earlier when it asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for a waiver of certain rules prohibiting the unlicensed operation of certain fixed wideband wireless systems -- a request related to its effort to design a novel wireless beacon system for navigation.
Sure enough, today iRobot confirmed that -- in contrast to the cumbersome buried boundary wires required by other robotic lawn mowers today -- Terra uses a "newly developed wireless communications system, including stand-alone beacons," to autonomously navigate any given lawn.
To set up the bot, users will simply place the wireless beacons around the yard, drive the robot once around the perimeter, and schedule it to mow. Then Terra will cut in neat, straight lines just as a human would, keeping track of its progress and recharging as needed until it's finished. You'll also be able to use iRobot's HOME app to do things like customize Terra's schedule and adjust the height of the grass.
Keeping in mind iRobot previously designed rugged outdoor military bots through its defense and security segment (before divesting the business in early 2016 to focus on home robotics), we can also rest assured Terra can endure adverse weather and navigate relatively difficult terrain.
iRobot chairman and CEO Colin Angle stated:
iRobot is building an ecosystem of robots and technologies that help people do more both inside and outside of the home. The robot mower segment is well established in [the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region] and has tremendous room for growth in other markets, including North America. With its ease of use and premium mowing features, Terra is poised to give consumers a whole new way to think about how they take care of their lawn.
On pricing, availability
This doesn't mean, however, that Terra will grace your front lawn immediately. iRobot says Terra will only be available for sale in Germany and as a beta program in the United States in 2019. The company further promised specific availability and pricing information "at a later date."
But we shouldn't expect Terra to be cheap. After all, iRobot's latest self-cleaning Roomba i7+ model retails for $1,099.99 today. And most robotic lawn mowers on the market today sell for anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 -- though I suspect in the interest of maximizing its value proposition, Terra's price tag will likely land somewhere in the middle of that range.
Nonetheless, with shares up around 6% as of this writing, it's clear the market approves of iRobot's decision to formally confirm Terra's existence today. As a longtime shareholder myself, I can't wait to see how its gradual launch unfolds.
Check out the latest iRobot earnings call transcript.