iRobot’s new mop will jet around your bathroom floors


iRobot is betting it can clean the gunkiest corners of your bathroom floor.

The Bedford company’s newest product, the $200 “Braava Jet,” is a stain-busting automaton that will inch its way around around sinks and toilets, sponging off any grime or dirt in its path. Announced Tuesday, it’s the latest addition to a squad of robotic mops that includes the pricier Braava ($300) and the deep-cleaning stain scrubber, Scooba ($600).

Home robots have been a growing fraction of the company’s revenue. In 2014, a full 91 percent of sales were from home robots including vacuum cleaners, pool scrubbers, and gutter cleaners. The star in that lineup is the Roomba, the disc-shaped vacuum cleaner that’s won fame on YouTube and the undying love of cats everywhere. Various models of the vacuum cleaner, including the top-of-the-line Roomba that sells for $900bring in 90 percent of revenue in the home robot category. Neither the Looj gutter cleaner nor the Mirra pool cleaner have taken off like the Roomba.

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The Braava line was designed by California robotics firm Evolution Robotics, which iRobot acquired in 2012.

Evolution had been selling a floor-mopping robot called Mint for two years by that time. It was rebranded and sold as “Braava” beginning in 2013. The Jet has been in development at iRobot for the last two years.

So it’s likely there are some pretty big hopes pinned on the Jet’s petite frame. (You can fit one in a large handbag.) For one, the company hopes the Jet will find takers in non-US markets, China, for example, where daily floor washing is often the norm and the Braava has seen some success.

Also, the Jet is iRobot’s first new product since its decision in February to sell off its defense division to focus on building robots for the home. The PackBot assisted soldiers in defusing explosive devices, and the smaller FirstLook was designed to be a remote-controlled scout.

The Jet’s redesigned shape and smaller size are intended for hard-to-reach nooks in bathrooms and kitchens. “We can get into spaces that the Braava 300 series can’t,” said Kristy Catsouphes, product manager for hard floor care at iRobot.

Like an electric steam iron, the Jet carries a refillable reservoir for water. The robot squirts a spray of water before inching forward.

The battery on the robot and the water tank are built to last a sweep of about 150 square feet. Three kinds of disposable scrubber pads steeped in cleaning solution offer users a choice of a wet, damp, or dry clean.

The company did not make review units available for a test run. In a brief demonstration in The Boston Globe cafeteria, the robot inched its way across circular tabletops and used its “cliff sensors” to scrub the surface without falling over the edge.

Unlike the latest Roomba, the Jet does not have a camera or optical sensors. Instead, it records the dimensions of the space based on the items it bumps into.

The three types of cleaning pads trigger one of three modes on Jet. When you put one on, the Jet reads a basic sensor on it and changes its settings accordingly. For example, the wet pad instructs the robot to squirt a little more water, prepping for a more intense clean as it navigates around the floor. “If you have a dirty kitchen floor or a bathroom, this goes a little bit deeper, sprays a little bit more water, gets the floors a little bit cleaner,” Catsouphes said.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at [email protected]
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