May 30

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In December, after all the lawsuits, the private eyes and the backroom deals, iRobot finally wrestled away the biggest ground-robotics contract in military history from its former employee and his secret partner. This “unmanned surge” was worth up to $286 million and 3,000 machines. And it didn’t look like it would be topped any time soon.

But appearances can be deceiving in the world of military robots. Turns out, there’s been a second unmanned surge. And yesterday, iRobot’s rival, Foster-Miller, announced that it had won the contract to supply it.

The five-year deal is worth up to $400 million. And it will cover thousands of Talon bomb-handling robots and spare parts — maybe between 2,000 and 4,000 robots, F-M executive Bob Quinn tells Xconomy.

That would more than double the 2,000 Talons already in the field, finding and getting rid of improvised explosives. If all the robots are actually ordered under this “indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity” contract, that is.

Once the absolute darling of military bomb squads, the rugged, easy-to-drive Talon now has a more serious competitor in iRobot’s upgraded Packbot. With the number of bombs dropping overall in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with a beefed-up rival, is there really room to double the number of Talon machines?

Photo: (c) 2005 by Johan Spanner

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