iRobot Corporation (IRBT): Should It Be Worried?

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Last week, defense juggernaut Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) officially launched its CUTLASS unmanned ground vehicle, or UGV for short.

iRobot Corporation (IRBT): Should It Be Worried?

Northrup Grumman CUTLASS UGV. Image Source: Northrup Grumman

In describing the new robot, Northrop managing director Greg Roberts stated:

Our CUTLASS vehicle is setting new standards in the UGV market and significantly enhancing the ability of users to handle hazardous threats safely. It is more dexterous, cost effective and, as a package, four times faster than any other UGV. The vehicle is already in service across the U.K. and has proven itself to be robust and capable in the most demanding environments. We look forward to exploiting the potential opportunities for exporting this capability into international markets.

As Roberts hinted, CUTLASS was actually first demonstrated in 2007 in the U.K., its home market and where Northrop’s unmanned ground vehicle business was originally established.

And therein lies the bad news for comparatively small iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) ; when Roberts says they’re looking forward to expanding Northrop’s CUTLASS into “international markets,” you can bet he’s got every single one of iRobot’s existing customers in his sights.

Like iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT)’s Packbot 510 units, CUTLASS can accommodate a wide range of payloads, sensors, and other attachments. Rather than using the usual treaded tracks, however, CUTLASS has a six-wheel design which Northrop claims gives it superior navigation abilities through a variety of terrain thanks to its pitch and roll sensors at speeds up to 12 kilometers per hour (or just over 7 mph). What’s more, CUTLASS also uses an arm with a three-fingered gripper with “nine degrees of freedom” — another dexterity advantage over many other UGVs.

Is iRobot in trouble?
All the while, iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) has worked hard to restructure its struggling defense business amid today’s unpredictable economic climate, opting instead to place much of its focus on the booming consumer business to which it sells its signature Roomba vacuums, Mirra pool-cleaning bots, and equally fun-to-watch Looj gutter cleaning robots.

Even still, looking back on the PackBot’s history, it doesn’t appear the well-loved robot is in any immediate danger of obsolescence  The original PackBot was used as far back as 2001 to search the World Trade Center after the September 2011 terrorist attacks, and was deployed with U.S. troops for the first time in 2002 — the same year the company launched its first Roomba vacuums. However, iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) has continued to update the platform for today’s ever-changing hostile environments.

In fact, more recently iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT)’s PackBot was also spotted being utilized by the Boston Police Department after last week’s tragedy to inspect a parked car the suspect may have been using.

iRobot Corporation (IRBT): Should It Be Worried?

iRobot PackBot 510. Image Source: iRobot

Despite the recent struggles in its defense business, just last week iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) also won a sizable $28.8 million contract modification to expand the scope of its Man Transportable Robotic System program — another small robotic vehicle based on iRobot’s 510 PackBot platform.

What else does iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) have going for it? An already huge customer base, for one.

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