In its quarterly earnings today, iRobot announced an indefinite delay of its lawnmowing robot, Terra. The Roomba maker has abandoned plans to launch to the long-awaited home robot in 2020.
No surprise, the company says fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame for the uncertainty. More specifically, it blames “current market realities.” Here’s the statement a spokesperson for the company sent to TechCrunch:
Like many other consumer and technology companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted iRobot, necessitating a reprioritization of go-to-market plans and product development initiatives. As a result of current market realities, it has become necessary for the company to suspend its planned 2020 commercial launch of the Terra robot mower and to increase focus on its core business and other strategic priorities. iRobot still believes there is great potential for robot mowers, and while it is suspending its Terra launch for now, it will reassess options for launching it when the time is right. This decision will help ensure iRobot emerges from this downturn as a stronger company better positioned to extend its leadership position in consumer robotics and deliver sustained, profitable growth.
It’s hard to say how much of this has to do with global supply chain issues and how much is simply a perceived lack of demand. COVID-19 has led to an increased interest in automation, as robotics and AI can go a ways toward limiting human contact and thus the key disease vector. But with more people spending a lot more time at home, a product likely to cost around $1,000 may not be where people are looking to invest their stimulus money.
The “reprioritization” could be an interesting bit of insight into a company that spun off its own telepresence robot, Ava, a few years back. Perhaps the crisis is causing the company to explore different avenues that could be useful as people adjust to the realities of remote learning, long term. Notably, the company laid off around 70 people as a "cost cutting measure," mostly from R&D. That represents about 5% of its global headcount.
The company didn't comment on specifics beyond this, but this manner of indefinite delay isn’t a great sign for their next big thing, even if a pandemic is ultimately to blame here.