IRobot gets $200M Army pact to supply robots, spare parts

Deal expands on earlier contract to supply robots based on PackBot technology

The US Army Tuesday awarded a US$200 million contract to iRobot to supply it with military robots, service, spare parts and training over the next five years.

The contract comes about four months after the expiration of an earlier Army pact that called for iRobot to build products based on its PackBot robot, which can rotate 360 degrees on track platforms and climb up stairs or over snow and rubble. The new contract isn't specific to one product, allowing the military to take advantage of other iRobot technologies.

"The continued investment from the US Army further validates our robots' critical position in theater, allowing troops to complete missions successfully while keeping them at safe distances," said iRobot president Joe Dyer in a statement. "As the Army continues to utilize ground tactical robots with greater frequency, new applications for these robots are being identified."

The contract is the latest example of the US military moves to invest heavily in robotics technology.

Late this spring, the US Army Research Laboratory awarded a US$38 million contract to BAE Systems to design and build microrobots inspired by birds and insects. A small group of insect-size robots, for instance, would include one that captures video, another that records sound and another that senses chemical agents. The robots would be sent into the field to gather information, share it amongst themselves and then send it back to the command center, or to a soldier, as one unified message.

And last month, Tufts University announced that it was selected for a US$3.3 million US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to continue its development of soft, squishy robots that can squeeze into spaces a fraction of their normal size and then morph back into their original size and shape.

iRobot, known widely for its line of Roomba vacuum cleaners, has delivered more than 1,700 PackBots to the military to date, according to the company.

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