Army Is Prepared to Award “XBot” Contract to IRobot If Robotic FX Fails New Assessment

10/24/07Follow @bbuderi

The U.S. Army will cancel Robotic FX’s $279.9 million contract for bomb-detection robots and award it to iRobot as the next-lowest bidder if a new assessment of Robotic FX finds it is not a “responsible” government contractor, according to a letter from an Army contracts officer. IRobot, which received the letter yesterday, passed on the news today to U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner in Boston as evidence in support of its request for a preliminary injunction against Robotic FX.

These latest developments mark a potentially important milestone both in iRobot’s effort to claim the so-called “xBot” contract and in its legal battle against Robotic FX. (IRobot is contending in two lawsuits—one in Gertner’s court and one in U.S. District Court in Alabama—that Robotic FX’s Negotiator robot is a knock-off of iRobot’s PackBot.) Late this afternoon, as we previously reported, iRobot announced that the Army had set aside Robotic FX’s xBot contract, which it awarded last month, and was reassessing the situation in light of iRobot’s allegations.

This evening iRobot released a letter from Army contracts officer Joanne Byrd that spelled out more details of her decision to set Robotic FX’s contract aside—and of the somewhat involved process that might lie ahead. IRobot also released a letter from its attorneys to Judge Gertner. In effect, the letter says that Byrd’s announcement that she was prepared to give iRobot the contract if Robotic FX was not found to be “responsible” renders moot an earlier argument by Robotic FX and the U.S. Attorney’s office that an injunction against Robotic FX was against the public interest because it would delay robots reaching U.S. troops.

Byrd’s letter, dated yesterday, was written to Christine Choi of the Army’s Legal Services Agency. In it, Byrd notes that she has reviewed a series of protests filed by iRobot, the most recent coming last Friday, October 19. “After careful consideration and consultation with cognizant legal and procurement officials, I have determined that the protests, though not clearly meritorious, raise questions regarding the award…to Robotic FX,” she wrote.

Consequently, Byrd wrote, she would “set aside the award to Robotic FX” and “conduct a reassessment of Robotic FX’s responsibility to perform the xBot contract.” (Responsibility in this context refers to, among other things, a potential contractor’s capability, competency, integrity, and overall fitness to work with the government.) If Byrd herself does not find Robotic FX to be responsible, she said she would refer the matter to the Small Business Administration’s Government Contracting Area Office, which would then have to determine whether to issue a Certificate of Competency affirming that Robotic FX is responsible to perform the contract. “If the SBA declines to issue a COC,” Byrd wrote, “then I will award a contract to the next lowest bidder, iRobot.”

You can read the full text of Byrd’s letter here. We have lots of other background details on the case here.

The second item released by iRobot was a letter from one of its attorneys, Michael Bunis, to Judge Gertner. The key point in this one, we think, is the final sentence of the next-to-last paragraph. “Because issuance of the injunction will plainly have no impact on the Army’s ability to acquire robots needed for our soldiers, the public interest argument raised by Defendants and the U.S. Attorney’s office are without merit.”

Here’s the full text of Bunis’s letter.

Our efforts to reach several of the parties involved in this case have so far not been successful but, as always, we’ll let you know if and when we hear more. Today’s news came after the stock market had closed. IRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) was down $0.34 to $15.46, by our count its lowest closing price since mid-May. In after hours trading, however, it is up $1.54 (nearly 10 percent) to $17.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • snake

    I hope there’s a book afterwards… maybe a movie… Kelsey Grammer could play ed ward

  • Neptune

    Exactly my thoughts. Richard, I hope you and your team write a book on the whole episode.

  • jsrn

    a big thanks to the whole team that reported on the IRobot vs. RoboticFX case (I know the case is not closed yet and I hope you keep up the good work!).

  • snake

    sigh…. how long is this going to take?

  • mb

    Awesome news. Justice will prevail. All the iRobot superb engineers who so deligently worked day and night, weekends, holidays etc. to design the packbot deserve that this contract be awarded properly to iRobot. Believe me I hope and pray that this will happen.