Inside iRobot: A Search for Medical Droids
(Page 2 of 2)
$63.1 million (Authoria reportedly raised more than $100 million from private investors between 2000 and 2008). For the past six years, he said, he and Angle were on the same CEO forum. His conversations with Angle about joining the company occurred earlier this year, and he became the president of healthcare unit of iRobot in August.
IRobot hasn’t said when it will bring to market a robot for home healthcare. Loofbourrow said the company plans to work with top medical experts and understand the needs of seniors before it launches a product. He was mum about how many people are working for him at iRobot and exactly how much money and resources the company has committed to the healthcare business. Yet the simple fact that the company hired him to run the division and made a big public splash about its intentions in the healthcare business at the TEDMED conference in San Diego last month says that the firm is serious about the market.
Loofbourrow said he doesn’t believe there will be much competition from other robotics firms in the home healthcare market. (It’s true that no companies have successfully launched a home healthcare robot for mainstream use, but plenty of companies such as MobileRobots of Amherst, MA, and Santa Barbara, CA-based InTouch Health make robots for use in hospitals.) Yet that doesn’t mean there aren’t any market hurdles for iRobot. Loofbourrow did not provide an estimate of how much the robots would cost, and it’s unclear to me whether seniors would feel comfortable having robots involved in their healthcare. Angle told me in a 2006 interview that a home healthcare robot would have to cost less than $1,000 to be affordable. At least initially, the company’s healthcare robots would most likely be paid for out of pocket by the seniors that use them or their children. (I think it goes without saying that Medicare and health insurers don’t pay for robots.)
Indeed, iRobot knows how difficult it can be to develop a robot for the home market. Despite its relative successes with the Roomba vacuuming and Scooba mopping robots, the company decided to forgo a full commercial launch of its ConnectR—a robot that people can control from their PCs that offers video and audio to virtually visit with loved ones—after it didn’t gain enough interest from in consumers in a limited market release of the robot in 2008. However, the company may be the best positioned to move into the healthcare market because of its expertise in manufacturing and marketing home robotics.
“Healthcare is a funny market; it’s one of the markets in which who pays, who benefits, and who uses it could be three different people,” Loofbourrow said. “So to do something right in healthcare you need to have a holistic plan that addresses all three of those things.”