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iRobot's New Products Could End Up Lonely and Unloved

Two new products by iRobot (IRBT), a gutter-cleaning device and a virtual communications robot, are an attempt to expand the company's portfolio of consumer-targeted devices.

But the two offerings, with their limited appeal, may not do much for the company's crumbling stock.

On Thursday, iRobot introduced the Looj gutter-cleaning robot and the ConnectR virtual-visiting Robot to supplement its existing line of the Roomba vacuum cleaning robot and Scooba, an automated floor washing device.

Consumer robots accounted for 36% of the company's revenue in the second quarter fiscal 2007.

The Looj is designed to clean a stretch of gutter, sweeping out dirt, leaves and other debris that can cause costly water damage and overspills, says iRobot. The cheapest version of the product is priced under $100.

It may be an affordable buy for suburban homeowners, but Looj has significant limitations. It can't turn corners and has to be hoisted up a ladder into a gutter. There's a holster available that can be worn around the waist to carry the device up. Looj also can't turn off automatically when the cleaning is done.

The larger issue is: How many of these machines can iRobot actually sell? The company has sold about 2 million Roombas since it was introduced in 2002. But sales of Looj could be a fraction of that.

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