IRobot Wins Open-Ended, $200M Army Contract: Could Extend Beyond Packbot

Bedford, MA-based iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) said today that the U.S. Army has awarded it a contract for military robots, spare parts, training, and repair services that could bring the company up to $200 million over the next 5 years and give the Army more flexibility to order robots for new missions.

The Army uses iRobot’s Packbot robots in Iraq to remotely investigate hazardous situations and environments. It obtains those robots under two separate contracts: the $286 million “Xbot” contract, which was awarded to iRobot last fall after a dramatic legal battle with now-defunct rival Robotic FX, and another so-called “indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity” contract that ran out in May 2008. The new contract, issued by the Army’s Robotic Systems Joint Project Office, replaces the expired one, but is even more indefinite, covering Packbots and other types of robot products and services that the Army may require in the future.

According to iRobot chairman Helen Greiner, that could include next-generation “small unmanned ground vehicles” or SUGVs, miniature surveillance bots that iRobot is developing in partnership with the Army’s Future Combat Systems program.

“What distinguishes the two contracts is that the Xbot contract was for a specific user community, the infantry, who wanted to remove ordnance more quickly and came up with specific requirements for that,” Greiner says. “Whereas this is more of an omnibus contract that leaves room open for different types of robots from iRobot. There is an ongoing war effort, and there are new applications coming up for robots in the field. This leaves it open so that if the military needs items for different user communities, we can expand our product offerings under this contract as the Army requires.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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