With an eye to making China one of the largest markets for its home robot vacuums, iRobot says it welcomes China's fast-paced robotic development and is eager to leverage that and invest more in research and development.
"The Chinese consumer is developing into one of the largest markets for robot vacuums worldwide; it has had accelerated growth over the past three years," said Christian Cerda, chief operating officer of iRobot, the US-based manufacturer of consumer robots, adding that China is the fastest-growing market and the fourth-largest region for the company.
iRobot launched a floor mopper tailor-made for the China market in 2016 and established a commercial team at a Shanghai office to directly manage sales, marketing and after sales service, in order to be more responsive to the local market, said Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of the company, in an email sent to China Daily.
Angle said the company is mainly focusing on the premium segment, "We've been the leader in the over RMB 3,000 ($477) premium robotic vacuuming cleaner market."
He added that the floor mopper is most successful in Asian countries where hard floors are common. Currently, it brings in about 10 percent of iRobot's total revenue globally. Wet floor care products account for about 40 percent of sales in China.
"The growth in China is led by some Chinese competitors," Cerda said. "Share-wise the largest is Ecovacs, and we have seen recently some entrances to the market with competitors like Xiaomi.
"Compared to the robot market worldwide, the Chinese market has a lower price point and has a very large segment of the market with very basic and affordable robot vacuums.
"China as a country has put a lot of emphasize on the development of AI, and we are seeing a lot of activities in this area," Cerda said, indicating that the Made in China 2025 initiative would also help companies in China succeed. "We welcome it, and we think this is good for robotics development worldwide, and we're happy to see this sector growing and developing in China."
Cerda said that all of iRobot's manufacturing was based in China and recently the company has been doing more design in China too. The company estimated it pumped up to $5000 million into R&D last year and there would be more in the future.
"The capability of robot design has improved significantly over the past few years, so we are leveraging that," Cerda said.
Cerda said that China has tremendous talent and infrastructure to support the robot industry.
"We want to lead in the premier end market in China, and we want to lead through increasing intelligence," Cerda added.
"We're expanding our engineering capabilities at our Guangzhou office and we recently built a test lab there," Angle said.
When it comes to the recent trade disputes between China and the US, Cerda added although the consumer robotic industry has not been affected by the tariffs imposed by China as well as the US, he hopes the situation will not be escalated and the two nations can settle the disputes by communication.
The company was founded in 1990 by MIT roboticists, including Colin Angle.
Although its China head office opened in Shanghai in September 2016, iRobot started its business in the country as early as the late 1990s by working with US toy manufacturer Hasbro in Guangzhou to build robot toys.