Is It Time to Bid Farewell to Old Acquaintances and Embrace Technology?

I don’t know that anyone expected such a massive deal to simply skate past regulators — particularly with all of the heat Amazon has received for privacy concerns and noncompetitive practices over the last decade. At the same time, I don’t think too many of us assumed that we would be barreling into 2024 with this big, open question mark. The deal has already been greenlit by a number of governmental bodies, but the process has felt drawn out at every step. If you’re a regular Actuator reader, you likely already know my feelings about outside scrutiny of business practices (I’m generally pro), but I expected something definitive by now. Amazon will be just fine, of course, but I can’t imagine this waiting game has been easy on iRobot, which underwent two rounds of layoffs in mid-2022 and early 2023.

In August of last year, the world was stunned by the news that retail giant Amazon had announced plans to acquire iRobot in a massive $1.7 billion deal. Analysts speculated that this move could give Amazon a significant advantage in the world of consumer robotics, much like Kiva’s acquisition had boosted its industrial ambitions a year earlier.

But as the months passed, it appeared that the deal may not be as smooth sailing as many had initially anticipated. With Amazon facing scrutiny over privacy concerns and noncompetitive practices, it seemed unlikely that regulators would simply let this deal pass by without any questions or challenges. And yet, here we are, barreling into 2024 with the fate of this deal still up in the air.

Despite receiving approvals from various governmental bodies, the process has been long and drawn out at every step. As a regular reader of the Actuator, it’s no surprise that I support outside scrutiny of business practices. However, even I expected a definitive decision to be reached by now.

While Amazon will likely weather this storm with ease, it’s hard to imagine that this waiting game has been easy on iRobot. In recent years, the company has had to undergo two rounds of layoffs (in mid-2022 and early 2023) and just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deal’s announcement, iRobot shared the news that it was lowering its purchase price by 15% and taking on $200 million in debt to “fund its ongoing operations.” And if the deal does eventually go through, this debt will become Amazon’s responsibility.

One month ago, the European Union’s antitrust regulators expressed concern over the deal, stating that “Amazon may have the ability and incentive to foreclose iRobot’s rivals” by implementing various strategies to prevent them from selling their products on Amazon’s marketplace or limiting their access to it.

Of course, Amazon countered these concerns, claiming that iRobot already faces significant competition and that its resources would help lower prices and drive innovation.

Now, the European Commission has set a Valentine’s Day 2024 deadline for reaching a final decision on the deal. But until then, it seems that the fate of iRobot and its potential impact on the world of consumer robotics will continue to remain a question mark.

“Walking among us” – the potential future of iRobot under the wing of Amazon, a decision that will shape the industry for years to come. Will it bring advancements and lower prices, or monopolistic control and stifled competition?

At the time of writing, only time will tell.

As we wait for that fateful decision to be made, only time will tell what the future holds for iRobot and its competitors. Will they be walking among us, or will they fade into obscurity? Only time will tell.

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Dylan Williams

Dylan Williams is a multimedia storyteller with a background in video production and graphic design. He has a knack for finding and sharing unique and visually striking stories from around the world.

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