YouTube videos of cats on Roombas are so 3 years ago, but people still click. And I include myself in that.   

Google “cat on Roomba” and dozens of videos pop up featuring felines dressed in costumes being chauffeured by a robotic vacuum cleaner. Why are we so fascinated? And is it selling “smart” vacuums?

As a pet owner – to be fair a cat and a dog – I am a target audience for iRobot, the makers of the famous Roomba vacuum cleaner series. The classic shark cat with the duck was even cited by one commenter as “the best video in the history of mankind.”

Not that there’s a direct connection, but sales of Roomba have been growing, as has the in home robot category in general. In fact, I recently started on a journey to compare in-home robots, specific to the cleaning category. I expected to spend no more than an hour to compare, read product and user reviews, and make a purchase decision. But what I did not expect is how serious a purchase this is, and how competitive the market is. There are three primary barriers from my purchase right now:

1. No clear differentiators among competition

2. Price – these things are very expensive and it’s hard to justify purchasing to have this be a companion cleaner to a traditional upright, which most people still have

3. Skepticism of effectiveness – maybe because I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I actually do the cleaning, but automated floor cleaning is still something I doubt

While Roomba is essentially the “Kleenex” of the in home robotic cleaning space, there are a bunch of contenders who are worthy of a look.   

Ever heard of Neato? They’re nipping at the heels of iRobot with their own series of innovative robotic floor cleaners. And Moneual is another contender vying for your dollars and a chance to prove they’re the best, and most intelligent robotic floor cleaner. This is no small market – these units can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a thousand plus.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of these smart companies at CES this year. How will they cut through a crowded marketplace to suck up the competition – and, copious amounts of pet hair? Oh, for the record, I’m still in consideration mode – what do you recommend?