Endeavor Robotics Sues Rival QinetiQ Over Stair-Climbing Patents

Xconomy Boston — 

Endeavor Robotics is suing QinetiQ, its lone competitor in a heated competition for a $429 million defense contract, for using two of Endeavor’s patented methods to get a robot to climb stairs.

Endeavor, based in Chelmsford, MA, is asking the U.S. District Court in Delaware to declare that Waltham, MA-based QinetiQ North America is infringing the patents and award it damages for lost profits or royalties and costs associated with the lawsuit.

It’s unclear what impact a judgment in the lawsuit or the claim itself could have on the competition for the U.S. Army’s individual Common Robotic System contract to build 3,000 the robots for the military branch. Procurement documents call for a “highly mobile” unit that would need to be able to climb stairs. The robots could take on a variety of mission and will be assigned to infantry, engineers, explosive ordinance demolition specialists, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear-related units.

In March, Endeavor and QinetiQ both were awarded preliminary amounts in the contract to support 10 months of government testing. When that is complete, likely in early 2019, the Pentagon will award a final contract to the maker of one of the robot models.

Endeavor, which split off from Bedford, MA-based iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) in 2016, unveiled its Scorpion contract robot in early December, saying it includes an arm that protects it from damaging drops; lightweight, rugged composite materials, some of which can be 3D-printed in combat zones; and seven video cameras that pan, tilt, zoom and support thermal imaging.

Endeavor CEO Sean Bielat says in an emailed statement that the company takes “seriously the need to protect our intellectual property rights. As a cutting-edge technology company focused on building robots that help our customers, we’ll continue to guard our patented innovations with rigor. We believe our case is strong and look forward to a successful resolution of this matter.”

A representative from QinetiQ North America declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was first reported by Robotics Business Review.

Endeavor says in the lawsuit it noticed the alleged patent infringement in a photo of QinetiQ’s robot taken at a public event in Washington, D.C., in November. The robot looks to have an articulated forward arm used to climb stairs—one of the two patents Endeavor alleges in the lawsuit that QinetiQ infringed.

QinetiQ’s robot seen in a photo taken at a November 2018 event in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Endeavor Robotics)

Tracked vehicles and machines are propelled by a continuous band of plates or a rubber track. To get up a staircase or over objects in its way, QinetiQ’s robot uses an arm that angles the robot upward. when the robot approaches the stairs, the arm, which is fixed to the front of the robot and has its own set of track plates, pivots to the top of the first stair, then lifts the front of the robot up to the ledge of the first stair. Now the robot is angled upward and can simply drive up.

Endeavor’s lawsuit also claims QinetiQ uses a second component of its patented stair-climbing technique. The other patent QinetiQ is alleged to have infringed involves using a separate arm in the rear, behind the robot’s center of gravity, to angle it upward when it reaches a stair, the lawsuit says.

QinetiQ also uses this second technique in other models of its robots, the lawsuit says.