SoftBank has reportedly made another gamble on robots.
The Japanese internet giant has taken a stake in iRobot, which makes robotic Roomba vacuum cleaners, according to Bloomberg. It’s a relatively small stake at less than 5%, according to the report, but neither company has confirmed the deal.
It isn’t clear whether it’s SoftBank making the investment directly, or whether it’s the company’s $93 billion (£71 billion) Vision Fund, which invests in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), along with other emerging technologies.
iRobot is best known for its expensive robot vacuums — recent models cost £800 or more — but the company wants to start selling the extensive mapping data it has on people’s homes to one of the big three tech firms: Apple, Amazon, or Google.
The company was founded in 1990 by three roboticists from MIT, who initially designed robots for space exploration and detecting mines. It went public in 1995, and began focusing on home cleaning robots, selling its military robot division in 2016.
The news comes as iRobot acquires its biggest distribution partner, Robopolis, in a cash deal worth $141 million (£108 million)