iRobot’s Michigan Unit Aids in Key Military Deal

11/16/10

IRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) has quietly added to its forces in Michigan. The Bedford, MA-based provider of robotics for the home, government, and industrial markets now has two full-time employees based in the Wolverine state, where it first established a one-person office in 2009 to focus on its military customers.

Joe Dyer, iRobot’s chief of operations, sounded upbeat last week about his company’s presence in Michigan and the climate for future business growth.

In October, the company revealed that it landed a $14 million order to provide intelligence software upgrades and spare parts to previously deployed unmanned ground vehicles called PackBots for the U.S. Army. (The military has used the robots in war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq for bomb disposal and other dangerous missions.) The order came through the Army’s Robotic Systems Joint Progress Office (RSJPO) in Warren, MI, Dyer said. Though this was the 20th order made under what is an ongoing $286 million contract, he gave the firm’s fledgling team based in Troy, MI, some credit for it.

“Our folks in Michigan have worked closely with that office [the RSJPO] in facilitating that business,” Dyer said.

And despite its small size, iRobot’s two-man force in Michigan is part of a crucial segment of its overall business, Dyer said. The company—though perhaps best known for its Roomba home vacuuming robots—brought in $39.6 million, or 42 percent of its third-quarter revenue, from its government-industrial group that makes robotic systems for military and security customers. The firm’s presence in Michigan keeps it in close proximity to the RSJPO, which is located at the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren, and a growing crop of nearby tech firms that are developing sensors and other systems that iRobot could integrate into its robots, Dyer said.

IRobot started with just one Michigan-based employee, Bruce Legge, a former U.S. Navy submarine officer and former employee of General Dynamics Land Systems who joined the company in 2009 to open the Troy office. IRobot has since added an engineer to its Michigan operation.

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