iRobot military robots emigrating

Unmanned robots sold to allied nations such as Israel and the United Kingdom are set to make up approximately 15 percent of the U.S. manufacturer's industrial-division revenues for 2008.

In addition to an expected increase in sales to the U.S. military, iRobot says it will see growth in its unmanned robot platforms from foreign buyers.

iRobot's Warrior robot can be modified to support chemical sensor devices or functioning weapons. Candace Lombardi/CNET

The "Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032," a report put out by the Department of Defense last year, outlined a strategy to increase spending in unmanned technology for the air, sea, and ground.

iRobot, which has already been supplying the U.S. military with unmanned robots for use in ground reconnaissance and combat, has repeatedly said it will benefit from the military's increased need.

But the company now says that as its robots have proven themselves useful in Iraq and Afghanistan, interest from foreign armed forces has also increased.

iRobot has sold robots from its line of unmanned military drones internationally to 13 allied countries, including Australia, Gemany, Israel, and the United Kingdom, since 2006, Joe Dyer, president of iRobot's Government & Industrial Robots division, told reporters in a Web conference Wednesday.

The international market consisted of only a handful of robots sold in 2006, but about 8 percent or 9 percent of iRobot's total revenue for unmanned robots in 2007. This year, iRobot estimates that its foreign market will increase to about 15 percent of its total revenues for its government and industrial division, according to Dyer.

But how do export license approvals work when a company is a supplier of dual-use technology to the U.S. military? Admittedly, iRobot's unmanned platforms are just as suited to benign first-responder search-and-rescue functions as they are to lethal combat. But either way you look at it, iRobot is still selling hardware with high-tech military capability to foreign entities.

"It's on a country-by-country basis. If country X desires to purchase iRobot robots, we take it to (the State Department) for approval. If we receive it, we proceed," Dyer said.

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