iRobot Alumni Build Robot-Vacuum Accessories To Promote “Successful Cleaning Missions”

10/1/09Follow @wroush

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“keep off mat,” which Roomba owners can place underneath easily jarred objects like dog bowls or plants. The mat’s black surface fools the Roomba’s built-in “cliff sensor” into thinking it’s about to topple over a stair step, sending it scurrying in another direction.

Of course, with their backgrounds in electrical and software engineering, Lynch and Stout have plans for more ambitious products down the road. “It’s in our nature to gravitate toward greater sophistication, and accessories that will really enhance the whole home-robot experience,” says Lynch. “But to start, we thought, ‘Let’s do something easy.’”

Robot Add-Ons' "Keep Off Mat" (under bowls)But even though Lynch and Stout have nearly 40 patents between them, they quickly learned that “nothing is easy,” Lynch says. For example, it took a long time just to find the right kinds of plastic for building attachments like the Unicorn and the bumper protector. “We use a complex blend of polymers that give [the products] just the right amount of flexibility,” Lynch says. And the company had to interview 10 filter manufacturers just to find one who could make a HEPA filter that would meet its standards, says Stout.

When I asked Stout and Lynch two of my standard questions for startups—whether they’re looking for outside investors, and whether the exit strategy for the company might involve acquisition, perhaps even by iRobot itself—I got some interesting answers. Let’s just say Stout and Lynch appear to be enjoying working for themselves.

Robot Add-Ons' furniture-protecting bumper“We’ve each had a boss at one time and it didn’t really work out,” says Lynch. “I think we are pretty mature product developers, and we’re gaining a lot of business experience. In some sense it’s really rewarding to be able to call the shots and see the rewards.”

As for the idea of rejoining iRobot, if the company were ever to decide that it needed to add on Robot Add-Ons’ products, Stout and Lynch are wary. They propose a slight twist. “I can’t see myself going back to iRobot as an employee,” Lynch says. “But if we were to become like a research arm of iRobot—an external company that develops products and proves them out and lets the survivors float to the surface where they can be acquired—that is an interesting concept.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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