Army Cancels Robotic FX’s $280 Million Contract; Decision Could Pave the Way for IRobot to Win Award

Less than two months after setting aside a $279.9 million contract with Illinois-based Robotic FX for delivering bomb-detection robots to U.S. troops, the U.S. Army has canceled the agreement, the Boston Globe reports. The decision apparently paves the way for the contract, which was awarded to Robotic FX in September, to go to iRobot as the next-lowest qualified bidder.

Although it still is too early to proclaim an iRobot victory—we have not yet independently verified the Globe account and just yesterday an iRobot spokesperson said there was no new information available—this latest news seems to be a pivotal development in the Burlington, MA-based company’s struggle to win the “xBot” contract. The Army’s decision might also shed light on iRobot’s legal fight against its rival. (IRobot is contending in two lawsuits—one in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts and one in U.S. District Court in Alabama—that Robotic FX’s Negotiator robot is a knock-off of iRobot’s PackBot.)

On October 23, Army contracts officer Joanne Byrd revealed her decision to set aside the contract to Illinois-based Robotic FX in a letter to the Army’s Legal Services Agency. She said in the letter that she would conduct a new assessment of Robotic FX to determine whether it was a “responsible” government contractor.

If she did not deem Robotic FX responsible, Byrd wrote, she would next refer the matter to the Small Business Administration’s Government Contracting Area Office, which would need to determine whether to issue a Certificate of Competency affirming that Robotic FX is responsible to perform the contract. “If the SBA declines to issue a COC,” Byrd wrote, “then I will award a contract to the next lowest bidder, iRobot.”

You can read the full text of that letter here.

It’s not clear how far along the Army and SBA are in that whole process. “The Robotic FX contract is no longer in existence,” Byrd told the Globe, citing “peripheral complications” as the reason behind the decision. However, no other details were provided.

We tried to reach iRobot officials for an update, but so far have received no word back. In the meantime, you can find all our coverage of the case here.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and chairman. You can email him at Follow @bbuderi

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