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iRobot gets single biggest order from Army

U.S. Army will pay $35.3 million for robots to help solders scope out and clear dangerous areas from safe distance.

Best known for its Roomba vacuums, iRobot also counts the U.S. Army as a top customer. And the latest Army deal is the company's single biggest.

iRobot said Tuesday it has received an order from the U.S. Army for $35.3 million for robots equipped to help soldiers safely evaluate dangerous conditions.

The PackBot 510 with FasTac Kit
The PackBot 510 with FasTac Kit iRobot

The order, made by the U.S. Army TACOM Contracting Center in Warren, Mich., calls for 486 iRobot PackBot 510 with FasTac Kit robots by March 31, 2010. This single order is part of an overall larger contract worth $286 million, of which $125 million has been earned by iRobot to date.

"This order is truly a significant milestone for iRobot," Joe Dyer, president of iRobot government and industrial robots unit, said in a statement. "Not only is it the single largest order we have ever received from the military, but it also proves that there is strong and continuing support for our PackBot FasTac platform that was introduced just last year."

The PackBot 510 with FasTac Kit lets soldiers view and evaluate dangerous locations from a safe distance, says iRobot. The PackBot can then clear those areas, allowing troops to proceed.

Controlled by a laptop with a game-style controller, the robot can move at up to 5.8 mph and run for up to four hours at a stretch. A compact arm and gripper lets soldiers pick up and examine suspicious objects from a distance.

"One of the robot's strengths is its adaptability," Dyer said. "It is well-suited for use by combat engineers, route clearance companies and infantry brigades. This is important as our troops continue to fight wars on multiple fronts, each possessing its own unique mission types and challenges."

iRobot has been a top supplier of combat-related robots to the military for a couple of years. The Army's current contract, put in place a year ago, allows it to buy equipment, training, and services from iRobot over the next four years.

The PackBot has been a popular model, serving in locations like Iraq to dispose of roadside bombs and other hazards. Another variation of the PackBot can sniff out nerve gas and other dangerous chemicals.