Foster-Miller Awarded $400 Million Military Contract

5/28/08Follow @gthuang

Updated, May 29: Those robots must be doing something right. Less than a month after its 2000th TALON military robot went out into the world, Waltham, MA-based Foster-Miller has been awarded its biggest robot contract yet—for more of the same. The $400 million award calls for Foster-Miller to deliver an unspecified number of additional TALON robots and spare parts to the U.S. military, mainly for use in countering roadside bombs. QinetiQ North America, which owns Foster-Miller, made the announcement today.

The award is the largest single robotics contract in recent memory. (By comparison, iRobot’s Army contract last December, which had previously been awarded to Robotic FX, was for $286 million.) It comes from the Robotic Systems Joint Program Office and is administered by the Naval Air Warfare Training Systems Division. It is a follow-up to a $150 million contract awarded to Foster-Miller in May 2007. The new $400 million should buy between 2,000 and 4,000 robots, says Bob Quinn, vice president of TALON operations at Foster-Miller.

The remote-controlled TALON robot, which competes in the same space as iRobot’s PackBot, has been instrumental in helping troops detect and disable explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over a six-month period in 2006, 85 percent of robots blown up in the field were TALONs. Could the new contract signify a shift in the balance of power of local robotics firms?

“We don’t do consumer robots, and we don’t do as much PR, so the TALON is not as well known to the financial community and the media,” says Quinn. “But I assure you that in terms of its users, it is extremely well known. For soldiers, it is the clear tool of choice because it is rugged, easy to use, and has the right size to unearth IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. But we do have to catch up to iRobot on the reconnaissance side.”

Update, May 29: The Robotic Systems Joint Program Office told us today that it anticipates announcing a major award to iRobot in the next few weeks.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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