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Can Roomba maker iRobot clean up on Wall Street?

Maker of machines for "dull, dirty or dangerous" jobs is hoping those capable bots can help it raise up to $115 million in an IPO.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
iRobot, maker of the Roomba, has filed papers for an initial public offering, and they demonstrate all the promise and peril of the robotics market.

Rather than try to sell humanoid companion robots, the company designs and sells robots for jobs that are, in iRobot's own description, "dull, dirty or dangerous." The Burlington, Mass.-based company makes the Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner, as well as the PackBot, an autonomous vehicle deployed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. iRobot's sales to some degree are being viewed as a harbinger for the potential of the robotics market.

The company estimates it will seek $115 million at a maximum in its IPO. iRobot plans to list its stock on the Nasdaq under the symbol "IRBT."

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The figures in the form filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show that revenue has grown at a rapid clip during the past few years. Sales climbed from $14.8 million in 2002 to $54.3 million in 2003 to $95 million in 2004.

The company also went from a $7.4 million loss in 2003 to a $219,000 profit in 2004.

In the first six months of this year, sales hit $43 million, up 50.3 percent from sales of $28.6 million in the first half of 2004. Research costs and other factors, however, put iRobot back in the red with a $7.1 million loss for the first six months of the year.

The company is highly susceptible to the mood swings of the consumer market. In 2004, 73 percent of iRobot's revenue came from the consumer market. In the first six months of this year, consumer sales grew at a rate slightly slower than that for the year before (after factoring in an accounting change that favored iRobot).

"Our results in the fourth quarter of 2005 and in 2006 will depend in part on the success of this new product line (the Scooba floor mopper), and there can be no assurance that we will not incur delays in the introduction of our Scooba floor-washing robot or that it will attain market acceptance," the form states.

The filing also reveals salaries and stock ownership. CEO Colin Angle pulled in $234,520 in salary and a $151,914 bonus last year, while President Helen Grenier pulled in $234,512 in salary and a $135,805 bonus.

The principal outside investors are Trident Capital, Acer Technology Ventures, First Albany Entities and Fenway Ventures. Acer Ventures owns 13.1 percent of the company and is the largest stockholder, while Rodney Brooks, an MIT professor and company founder, owns 12 percent.

Founded in 1990, iRobot has 214 full-time employees.

iRobot did not disclose the share offering price, the number of shares to be offered or the date of the IPO. However, it said the lead underwriters will include Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Securities, First Albany and Needham & Co.

The market seems to have potential. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, approximately $2.6 billion will be spent worldwide on household robots from 2004 through 2007. The U.S. military also plans to make one-third of its vehicles unmanned by 2015.