In what was a stunning blow to iRobot and its investors, the US Army rejected the company in a high-stakes big for a large order of bomb-detection and tactical robots (Forbes story here). iRobot, the favorite to win the bidding, offered its PackBot robots as the product of choice to meet the demand for 3,000 robots the military issued on July 17th.
Instead, the winner was Robotic FX of Alsip, IL - a company that iRobot is currently suing for patent infringement and theft of proprietary designs (more on this in later posts).
And while, "iRobot ... has delivered
more than 1,000 IED and cave-clearing, remote-controlled PackBots to
the Army and Marine Corps since 2002", it's not entirely clear why the Army chose Robotic FX's systems over iRobot's. The best guess seems to revolve around price. According to Thorn at Robot Stock News
, "The contract appears to be about $93,000 per robot, while iRobot's PackBots have generally been in the $120K-$150K range."
Jameel Ahed, the president of Robotic FX, said, "This procurement was competed on a two-step technically acceptable,
low price basis and we are very excited to have won. We look forward to
producing our high-quality, easy-to-operate robots for our soldiers.”
Joe Dyer, head of iRobots government division is quoted as saying,
"The founder of Robotic FX has misused iRobot information and used it
to build the Negotiator. Our robots are used every day in critical
life-and-death situations, and putting in an inferior knockoff was just
not something we believe we could stand by and watch.”
The Army has since then issued a statement in Robotic FX's defense, citing the possibility of putting soliders in harm's way if Robotic FX is prevented (by the courts) from meeting the contract.
You can find more detailed coverage of iRobots loss and the unfolding lawsuit at Robot Stock News