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Firms look to clean up with robots

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July 16,2006

Robot vacuum cleaners are now available in a wider price range with the participation of new players. From left, Samsung Electronics’ Hauzen brand, LG Electronics’ Roboking, and Yujin Robot’s iClebo. Provided by the companies

Competition in the robot vacuum cleaner market is growing, along with demand and the entry of new players. HanulKid Co., a maker of intelligent robots, said yesterday that it developed a new robot vacuum cleaner that spouts steam and cleans surfaces with special pads. The “Steambot” goes on sale in October. Earlier this month, Samsung Electronics Co. released two models of robot vacuum cleaners from its Hauzen household appliance brand line. The company had featured robot vacuum cleaners at its product showrooms since 2003, but had not commercialized the product until now. The vacuum cleaners are priced at 890,000 won ($936) and 990,000 won, depending on features. A robot vacuum cleaner has artificial intelligence. Most are round or oblong and have sensors that enable it to move around the floor and pick up small debris on its own. The cleaner maneuvers around objects and sticks out brushes to clean corners. When it is low on batteries, it automatically goes back to its “home” and recharges itself. With Samsung’s entry into the market, products in the robot vacuum cleaner market have become more diverse. Prices range from 300,000 won to as much as 4 million won. At the lower end, middle-sized firms such as Kosdaq-listed Yujin Robot and the United States company iRobot compete between 300,000 won and 500,000 won. At the top end, starting at 2 million won are imported products from Electrolux and those from Hanool Robotics Corp. Korea’s major electronics makers, LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung Electronics, compete in the mid-tier 800,000 won to 900,000 won range. According to the market research firm Gfk, the domestic robot vacuum cleaner market was worth 15 billion won last year (about 30,000 units) and will grow to 110,000 units by 2008 as people increasingly want to spend more time on leisure. Samsung has rosier prospects, predicting that the domestic market will amount to 150,000 to 200,000 units by next year. “We expect the market to grow, since double income households are growing, and as the price of robot vacuum cleaners goes down, they replace existing vacuum cleaners at a fast pace. By 2010, robot cleaners will take up 70 to 80 percent of all vacuum cleaners,” said Kwon Hyuk-guk, a Samsung spokesman. LG Electronics’ robot cleaner “Roboking 2,” released in July of last year, surpassed sales of regular vacuum cleaners in February this year, despite costing about 1.4 million won, about three times that of regular vacuums. Sales figures from LG’s latest robot cleaner, “Upgraded Roboking,” are showing a 50 percent growth rate every month. Low-end products are still more popular with the public. “Roomba” made by iRobot, now garners about 50 percent of the local market. Yujin Robot’s “iClebo” has about 35 percent. Makers of robot cleaners are also seeking to add functions other than cleaning to future robots. “In the future, these cleaners will evolve into multi-purpose robots that serve security and educational needs as well,” said Oh Yeon-taik, a researcher at Samsung Electronics. by Wohn Dong-hee, Kim Chang-woo


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