iRobot Expands Its Consumer Bot Lineup... Sort of


Shares of iRobot jumped by more than 5% during intraday trading Thursday after the company announced it has officially launched its new Braava floor-mopping robot in North America.

To be sure, it was hard not to know about this launch considering I was woken up this morning by an email from iRobot proudly declaring its newest addition, and the company's website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed naturally have the promo plastered all over them.

iRobot's new Braava floor mopping robot. Image source: iRobot.

The surprisingly tiny robot -- measuring just three inches tall and 8.5 inches wide -- will come in two models, the Braava 320 and Braava 380t, which retail for roughly $200 and $300, respectively.

Both bots will sweep and mop your floors, but among the more expensive 380t's features are upgraded navigation, a quick clean mode, a "turbo charging" mode, a furniture guard included on the bumper, and pause/resume functionality.

An all new(ish) robot!
Of course, the Braava shouldn't come as a complete surprise. During last month's Q2 earnings conference call, iRobot management reminded us that it had launched the product in European markets earlier this year, and was looking forward to its U.S. debut this quarter to help drive continued domestic revenue growth.

What's more, the Braava concept technically wasn't iRobot's idea to begin with. Remember, as I noted after the company's first-quarter report, aside from some likely minor upgrades, the Braava is simply an iRobot-branded version of Evolution Robotics' Mint floor sweeping robots. And if you recall, iRobot acquired Evolution Robotics late last year, which dragged on the company's results for two quarters but is already accretive to earnings now.

More to come
But while the Braava will undoubtedly provide a nice little revenue boost for iRobot with its launch in the U.S., which was responsible for around one-third of the company's home robot revenue last quarter, the real opportunities for innovation will come from the implementation of some of Evolution Robotics' intellectual property.

More specifically, with the ER purchase also came ground-breaking visual navigation and simultaneous location and mapping technologies, through which iRobot can utilize low-cost cameras in their robots to both navigate and map more complicated environments without relying so much on infrared sensors and physical bumpers to do the job.

Who knows? Perhaps this technology will be the answer to fellow Fool Rich Smith's assertion that iRobot needs to start building better robots, plain and simple.

But in the end, I still think iRobot is doing fine as it stands, and the company's current strength in consumer robots along with that future potential is exactly why I still own shares of iRobot even as they trade for a premium to growth at around 37 times last year's earnings and 30.6 times next year's estimates.

Down the road, I see no reason iRobot shouldn't be able to grow into its valuation.

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