Neato: Rise of the robots

Robot vacuum cleaners are becoming more popular, as consumers get switched on to the benefits, says Giacomo Marini, chief executive and chairman of Neato Robotics. Sean Hannam spoke to him at IFA, where it launched its new Botvac D7 Connected robot cleaner

Q: Robot cleaners were one of the big themes of IFA 2017? Are they becoming more mainstream?
Giacomo Marini:
Definitely. We have clear indications of that. One thing that has happened in 2016 in North America is that the upright vacuum cleaner declined in numbers for the very first time. The robot vacuum category is growing in double digits – everybody’s announcing products and there are new entrants in the market.

In 2017, we see it as moving from early adopters to the [mainstream] consumer sector.

Q: What is driving that?
The main reason is because the general public is now less sceptical.

Q: Did they previously see robot vacuum cleaners as gimmicks?
Some of the early products were, in part, not particularly strong in their performance. More consumers are now convinced that the products work well, but instead of replacing their upright, they use robot cleaners as secondary cleaners and slowly migrate to using them more as primary cleaners – then they switch. The reason why that happens is because, after a while, they [consumers] change the paradigm of cleaning floors – they do more continuous, frequent cleaning [with the robot] and they realise it actually leaves a house that’s as clean – or generally even cleaner – than with an upright.

Neato Botvac D7 Connected
Neato Botvac D7 Connected

Q: Your new product is the Botvac D7 Connected. What can you tell us about that?
It’s our flagship model – it replaces the Botvac Connected that was introduced a few years ago at IFA. It has improved electronics and the main feature is that we’ve introduced maps that can be given to the robot – you can limit the areas where you want it to go. That is a very important feature – you don’t need to put magnetic strips around your house. It will be out in the fourth quarter of 2017 for £799.

We have completely redesigned our app for the full Connected line-up, based on two years of experience. We have streamlined it and we believe it is simpler – you can use it to do 80 to 90 per cent of what you want to do within a couple of screens.

Q: The Botvac Connected series supports Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Neato Chatbot for Facebook and IFTTT. What’s the role for the robot vacuum cleaner in the smart home of the future?
We have designed our connectivity and cloud infrastructure to be open and highly interoperable for developers – it can be used with platforms like SmartThings.

Q: What’s your retail strategy for the products?
We’re going after specialist electronics retailers.

Q: What’s the Holy Grail for robot cleaners? How do you see the products developing in the future?
More intelligence based on mapping and deep learning. The robot will make decisions rather than waiting for the human. 

Since this interview took place, Neato Robotics has been bought by the German-based Vorwerk Group for an undisclosed sum.

The Vorwerk Group first invested in Neato in 2010. Neato will operate within the Vorwerk Group as a wholly-owned independent business unit. There will be no changes to leadership or daily operations.

Said Neato chairman and chief executive  Giacomo Marini: “Our partnership with Vorwerk has proved increasingly successful over the past few years. As a separate subsidiary of the Vorwerk Group, and coming off the heels of a successful launch of the award-winning Neato Botvac D7 Connected at IFA 2017 in Berlin, Neato’s growth prospects in the category are now even brighter.”