April 19, 2024
Should auld acquaintance be robot

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August marked a year since Amazon announced plans to acquire iRobot in a $1.7 billion deal that some analysts suggested could give the retail giant a big head start in consumer robotics in much the same way Kiva boosted its industrial ambitions a year prior.

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. Just ahead of the announcement’s one-year anniversary, iRobot confirmed that it was lowering its purchase price by 15%, while raising $200 million in debt to “fund its ongoing operations” — debt that Amazon will take on if the deal does, in fact, close.

A month ago, EU antitrust regulators voiced the following concern: “Amazon may have the ability and the incentive to foreclose iRobot’s rivals by engaging in several foreclosing strategies aimed at preventing rivals from selling RVCs on Amazon’s online marketplace and/or at degrading their access to it.”

Amazon countered that its iRobot already faces “intense competition,” adding that its massive resources would lower prices and “accelerate innovation.”

The European Commission has given itself a Valentine’s Day 2024 deadline to reach its final decision.

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