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Dyson Will Enter Robotic Vacuum Market: “Value”, Brand and Margin Are Key

AP2014004_100x360_v3
Analyst(s):  Dan Kara
Date: Feb 12, 2014
Markets and Industries: Consumers, Domotics & Quality of Life
Systems and Technologies : Personal Systems

The Robot Vision Research Group at Imperial College London is receiving $8.2M (£5M, €6M) from household products engineering firm Dyson, best known for its bagless vacuum cleaner, to research domestic robots that can see and understand. The investment, which will support the Dyson Robotics Laboratory, will take place over 5 years and will be supplemented with an additional $5M (£3M, €3.6M) from outside sources.

Salients

  • Vision and Perception – The emphasis of the research at the center will be on the development of real-time vision processing software that will allow robots to better map and navigate unstructured environments.
  • Partnerships – Statements from Imperial College make it clear that the new center will operate as a partnership (both Imperial College and Dyson researchers and engineers will work at the new center). In fact, prior to the announcement, Dyson had been work cooperatively with the Imperial College since 2005. This continues James Dyson’s efforts to foster innovation by strengthening academic/business cooperation.
  • Ongoing Recruiting – The Dyson Robotics Laboratory is currently embarking on an international recruitment drive. Initially, the center will hire up to 15 research scientists and engineers (including Dyson researchers and engineers).
  • Under Control - The new robotics center will be headed by Andrew Davidson, currently a professor of Robot Vision in the Department of Computing at and head of the Robot Vision Group Imperial College London.

ARIS Analysis

  • Investing for the Future - The announcement of the Dyson Robotics Laboratory investment comes on the heel of January, 2014 announcement that the company plans to invest $412M (£250M, €302M) to double the size of its Wiltshire, England research site (and add 3K engineering jobs. In February, 2013, Dyson announced the investment of $100M (£61M, €73M) for a new, highly automated motor manufacturing facility in Singapore.
  • Emphasis on the Domestic – Statements from Sir James Dyson and robotics center head Andrew Davidson make it clear that the vision research at Imperial College will be directed to the development of domestic (read consumer) robotics. The formal announcement included phrases such as “robots for the house”, “cost effective”, and “affordable technology”. Dyson itself is a consumer products manufacturer. It is likely that the company will continue on this path.
  • Cheap (Quality) Sensoring – Consumer robotics products will increase their usefulness, and thereby their value, when they are able to perceive and understand their surroundings. A wide range of sensor technologies exist that make that possible, but technical feasibility and business feasibility are often not equivalent. Such is the case for consumer robotics. For consumer robotics products, it is essential that the number of onboard sensors be minimized, and the sensors themselves must be as inexpensive possible, yet still be effective and robust.Research at the Dyson Robotics Laboratory will be directed at developing real-time, high quality, visual processing capabilities using low price, consumer grade cameras.  This commodity visual sensing can be used for mapping, localization and navigation, and eventually perception and understanding. Andrew Davidson’s recent research, it should be noted, focuses on real-time, vision based, Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) using a single camera.
  • Dyson_Pic_300x182Avoiding Brand Damage - James Dyson’s low opinion of the robotic vacuums currently on the market is well known (“At the moment they have very poor pickup and they mostly wonder around aimlessly with lousy suction.”). Still, Dyson is on the record as saying robotic vacuums will eventually become the norm, and other Dyson principals have indicated that the company is very interested in the market. As a result, the Dyson has been researching robotics technology for over 15 years. As early as 2004, the company was preparing to release the DC06, a machine Dyson said could clean as well as all Dyson Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaners and would provide complete floor coverage. But the DC06 never made it to market after being deemed too pricy and heavy (over 50 sensors and estimated $10K, £6.5K, €8K price). Other factors were surely involved in the decision, such a lack of adequate margin. Clearly from Dyson’s standpoint, the risk of brand damage outweighed the market opportunity.
  • Booming, Mainstream Market - Since 2004, the robotic vacuum market has changed dramatically. First, the market was proven to be a new and growing opportunity. No longer an impulse purchase for technophiles, robotic vacuums have mainstreamed. The release of robotic cleaners by leading consumer electronics companies such as Phillips, Samsung, and Toshiba, along with industry leader iRobot and others (Neeto Robotics, Infinuvo, etc.) indicates that the market is robust. The global market for domestic robotic vacuum cleaners is exhibiting double digit growth (multiple research firms are in agreement on this point). More importantly, the addressable market is large, up to $7B according to research firm GfK, with robotic vacuum cleaners only a small percentage of the overall vacuum market (but growing).
  • Additional Capabilities – The capabilities of robotic vacuums, along with the enabling technologies that support them, have also improved since Dyson pulled the DC06 in 2004. Since that time, makes of robotic vacuum cleaners have incrementally added support for some combination of the following, largely tactical, features:
    • Longer battery life, quicker recharge
    • Automatic docking and recharging
    • Automatic power saving
    • Automatic height adjustment
    • Self-cleaning bins
    • Disentanglement capability
    • Anti-collision sensors
    • Position sensors
    • Intelligent cleaning routes
    • Reduced cleaning and maintenance requirements
    • Virtual walls
    • Dust and allergen filtration / HEPA filters
    • Odor neutralization
    • Remote control
    • Step/drop avoidance sensors
    • UV sterilization
    • Increased bin capacity
    • Programmable scheduling
    • Pet/workshop optimized versions
    • Noise reduction
    • Upgradable software
    • Multi-mode cleaning (spot cleaning, large areas, multiple passes etc.)
    • Multiple floor types (carpet, parquet, laminate, tiles etc.)
    • Dirt detection feature
    • Edge cleaning/wall following
    • Intelligent navigation and absolute mapping
    • Cameras and webcams
  • “Features” and “Value” – The features listed above, many of which were added following market research and customer feedback (HEPA filters, better batteries, etc.), have greatly improved robotic vacuums. The market, however, has now reached a point where the addition of incremental features is becoming more difficult. For the robotic vacuum cleaner makers, the low hanging features fruit has been plucked. Even if new capabilities could be added to the systems, telepresence functionality, for example, would the “value” provided support a substantially higher price (and greater margins)? To date that has not been the case.
  • Dyson’s Playbook – Dyson will enter the robotic vacuum market, and unlike in 2004 they face a mature, proven and growing sector (the market is roughly 13 years old). But Dyson has already proven it is possible to introduce high priced, high margin consumer devices into a mature market. In the early 1990s, Dyson released their DA001 vacuum, entering a market populated by many longstanding, successful companies. Dyson’s vacuums were priced many times that of its competitors, yet won over consumers with superior technology (the first real redesign of vacuums in over a century). The company simply did a better job at what vacuums are designed to do…. clean floors.Currently, robotic vacuum cleaners are not as effective as traditional systems (true vacuums with powerful suction versus sweepers). Robotic systems, however, provide value in that they are convenient, save time, and clean more regularly. That is, they operate autonomously. Coverage is a wash as it highly variable depending either on the type of robot at work or the human doing the vacuuming. But what if a system could be developed that provided the deep cleaning and coverage of a true vacuum, along with the convenience and regularity of a robotic system? Such a system would provide true value (superior cleaning, convenience and regularity), and therefore could demand a higher price (and higher margin). The gating factors for such a robotic system are small, low cost, lightweight, powerful motors capable of delivering a powerful vacuum for cleaning, along with mapping and navigation capabilities to ensure complete coverage (requiring low cost sensors and software). These are exactly what the Dyson Digital Motor, along with the research areas receiving funding and under development at the Imperial College and Wiltshire sites, can provide. So the Dyson playbook seems clear. The company will develop and release robotic vacuum cleaners once the technology required to provide a powerful suction, housed in the appropriate autonomous, mobile platform and providing complete coverage, can be developed. Dyson’s brand will be protected, and that brand will be used to drive market penetration and insure high margins.
  Resources Imperial College LondonWebsite Dyson – Corporate Website Dyson Digital Motor - Video

About the Author

Dan Kara

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General Inquiries – info@arisplex.com

 

Feedback – feedback@arisplex.com

For Content Queries – publisher@arisplex.com

 

Press Contact – press@arisplex.com

Quote Request – quote.request@arisplex.com

 

Connection or Navigation Issues – technical.support@arisplex.com

 

 

To request more information about Myria Logo 344x135 Research & Advisory Services – arisplex@myriaresearch.com