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Your Roomba May Be Sucking Up More than Dirt

The maker of the Roomba robotic vacuum, iRobot, has found itself embroiled in a privacy row after its chief executive suggested it may begin selling floor plans of customers’ homes, derived from the movement data of their autonomous servants.

“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,” said Colin Angle, iRobot’s boss.

That possibility has led to a shift in direction from the company technologically. While all of the housecleaning robots in its range are capable of navigating around a room, only the most advanced machines it makes do so by creating a mental map of the space; its dumber bots simply move almost randomly until they’re pretty sure they’ve covered the whole area.

Angle told Reuters that iRobot, which made Roomba compatible with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in March, could reach a deal to sell its maps to one or more of the Big Three — Amazon, Apple and Google’s Alphabet — in the next couple of years. None of the three commented on this story.

The plans have been received positively by investors, sending iRobot’s stock soaring to $102 in mid-June from $35 a year ago and giving it a market value of nearly $2.5bn on 2016 revenue of $660m.

All of iRobot’s Roombas use short-range infrared or laser sensors to detect and avoid obstacles, but in 2015 iRobot added a camera, new sensors and software to its flagship 900-series Roomba that gave it the ability to build a map while keeping track of their own location within it.

So-called simultaneous localization and mapping (Slam) technology enables Roomba, and other higher-end “robo-vacs” made by Dyson and other rivals, to do things like stop vacuuming, head back to its dock to recharge…

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