Robot Vacuum Set to Roll on DRTV

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A company that makes military robots used by the armed forces in Afghanistan is about to hit the airwaves with an infomercial for the Roomba, a robot vacuum cleaner for home use.


Developed by iRobot, a company that boasts a staff filled with MIT-trained scientists, the Roomba can navigate a room without getting stuck on walls, furniture, pets or people. It accomplishes its tasks armed with infrared sensors, a bumper and a navigation computer with an 8-bit CPU and 256 bytes of RAM.


Resembling the Milton Bradley handheld electronic game "Simon" -- measuring 13 inches in diameter and 3 1/2 inches in height -- the Roomba stars in a 30-minute show set to launch Oct. 5 on national cable.


While not offering any predictions on sales, Ron Perlstein, CEO of Infoworx, infomercial agency for the Roomba, said he expects a healthy holiday season and a long run for the product. The Roomba possesses all the fundamental characteristics of a good DRTV product, he said: It's new, innovative and makes people's lives easier.


"Roomba does for the vacuum what the washing machine did for laundry and what the dishwashing machine did for dishes," he said.


Produced in August, the Roomba show features veteran infomercial hosts Steven Meek and Jean Carol. The infomercial is heavy on studio demonstrations including a "torture track" sequence that shows how the robot vacuum can automatically adjust to different floor types and travel along obstacles and the edges of a room as it works.


Other features of the infomercial include animations explaining the technology of the Roomba as well as end-user testimonials.


The infomercial offer for the Roomba is $199.99, with an option to buy a $39.95 accessory, the "virtual wall," which is an infrared beam that causes the Roomba to turn back and limit its movement to a specific section of a room. The price point should make the Roomba competitive with many standard sweep vacuums, Perlstein said.


Roomba's target demographic will be time-deprived "soccer moms," he said. One user testimonial is given by a single mother with three children who expounds on how much time the Roomba has saved her.


The show will air on cable networks Inspiration, Hallmark, Oxygen, CNBC, Court TV and FX. If the infomercial succeeds on its initial run, the media buy will be expanded to include Lifetime, Perlstein said.


The Roomba also will be a featured item on the Home Shopping Network. A launch date on HSN has not been set but it is expected to air in October, he said.


Though women with children will be the Roomba's primary market, Perlstein said he foresees marketing it to other demographic segments. Those with potential include seniors, cleaning-averse single men and people with pets, who struggle with pet dander in their carpets, he said.


The Roomba is available at retail through Brookstone, Hammacher Schlemmer and The Sharper Image. Other specialty and department stores will be added in October.


Somerville, MA-based iRobot previously developed the Pack Bot robotic device now being used by the military to survey caves before sending in troops. The company also developed an automated industrial floor-cleaning machine in partnership with Johnson/Diversey as well the My Real Baby robotic toy doll.


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