LAS VEGAS -- With "Create," a new programmable robot aimed at hobbyists and developers, iRobot ( IRBT) is trying hard to create an ecosystem around the company's products.

The robotics maker known for its cleaning systems, Roomba and Scooba, could well do to build loyalists, especially because competition is on the rise.

Two companies here at the Consumer Electronics Show unveiled their own versions of robotic cleaners that squarely compete with iRobot's products.

South Korean company Microrobot said it plans to introduce a cleaning robot targeted at the consumer sometime around October, while Australian company Floorbotics hopes to have a product in the market next year.

iRobot's popular Roomba vacuuming system has barely 1% of market share, but it's a fast-growing product with few rivals so far. That, however, is unlikely to last.

The soon-to-be-introduced systems are not yet a threat for iRobot, but the company needs to build a flock while it is ahead. And that's where Create could help.

Priced at $129, Create consists of the Roomba shell and a command system that could be used by developers to build robots with additional functionality -- such as a vaccuming system custom-programmed to remember the layout of a house, or one that can even fetch a beverage from the refrigerator after its cleaning is done.

The Create platform can be used with a variety of programming languages and systems. "We want to put iRobot at the center of the ecosystem," says Helen Greiner, chairman and co-founder of iRobot

iRobot needs to build that fan base of developers especially now that rivals are circling in.

Microrobot's round-shaped Ubot is a single device that sweeps, vacuums and mops and is already in the market.

Unlike the Roomba and Scooba, which clean only by randomly moving across the room, the Ubot can work in two settings: a random cleaning mode and a navigational mapping mode that allows it to create a map of the room and follow it.

The downside? The Ubot, priced at $1,000, is much more expensive than the Roomba, which starts at around $149; Scooba starts at $399.

Also, the Ubot is much thicker than the Roomba and Scooba -- something that could prevent it from cleaning well under sofas and tables, says Greiner.

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