IRobot Dives Deeper into “Next Frontier” of Underwater Robotics with $10M Acquisition of NC Firm

Calling the undersea market “the next frontier” for robotics, iRobot announced today that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire unmanned underwater robot and technology company Nekton Research of Raleigh-Durham, NC. IRobot said that it will pay $10 million up front for Nekton, with the potential to pay an additional $5 million if certain milestones are reached—and that the transaction is expected to close by this Friday.

“We believe that the underwater market is the next frontier for robots,” said iRobot chairman Helen Greiner in a statement. “This acquisition positions us for leadership in robot solutions on both the land and sea.” As part of the acquisition, Nekton’s president and CEO, Rick Vosburgh, will become executive director, Maritime Systems, and will take charge of iRobot’s newly created Maritime Programs office, which will be located in Raleigh-Durham.

The move is part of a major expansion for iRobot into underwater vehicles. In June, the company announced it had signed a sole licensing agreement to commercialize the University of Washington’s “Seaglider” underwater robot. The specific terms of the deal with UW TechTransfer were not disclosed, but the announcement marked iRobot’s first foray into the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) market.

Nekton’s customers include the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and the Naval Undersea Warfare Command (NUWC). IRobot said the Nekton acquisition will have minimal effect on this year’s revenue, and that it anticipated the product and contract revenue from the deal to contribute between $6-8 million in 2009.  It also said the transaction would dilute shares by approximately $0.02 cents the next two years as it invested in productizing the North Carolina comany’s Nekton Ranger prototype.

It’s been a busy week for Bedford, MA-based IRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT). Last Tuesday, the company announced its co-founder, MIT professor Rod Brooks, was stepping down from his CTO role to devote full-time to a new company, Heartland Robotics, which is focused on developing industrial and workplace robots. That same day, it gave news that it had won a U.S. Army contract to provide military robots, spare parts, training, and repair services in a deal that could total $200 million over the next 5 years. And on Wednesday, it announced three new models of its Roomba vacuum cleaner, two of which are tailored for cleaning up after pets.

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

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