Roomba Maker iRobot Spins Off Its Defense Business

Cry “refocusing” and divest from robots of war

Soldier with PackBot

courtesy iRobot

That funny little robot vacuum in your house has a sibling in the Army. With a business built around friendly robots for the home and also powerful robots for the battlefield, it's easy to see why iRobot, the maker of the Roomba, would want to refocus their company onto just one half of that equation. As announced in a business call today, the company best known for their line of robotic vacuums sold off their own warbot side-business.

The chief warbots in iRobot's portfolio are the FirstLook and Packbot families. FirstLook is a 5 pound throwable robot, with cameras and tracks that make it a nimble little scout. The PackBot family (later rebranded as "warrior") are tracked camera-toting robots with grabber arms used in bomb disposal by both military and police customers. These robots were a major part of America's war effort in Iraq, a high-tech answer to the low-tech bombs used by insurgents.

As a vital tool in long-fought wars, there was a clear market for the robots last decade. America leaving Iraq in 2010, and leaving Afghanistan at the end of 2014, reduced demand somewhat, but the war robot business remains viable. Boston Business Journal notes of the defense and security wing of iRobot:

The company, which will be renamed, will be the largest independent provider of ground-based robots to the U.S. Department of Defense, with a significant and growing global presence in the security, industrial and international defense markets, the release stated.

Purchased for $45 million, the security wing is now held by Arlington Capital Partners of northern Virginia, and will be run by a former iRobot employe and the current head of the defense and security division. Among Arlington Capital Partners other investments is a stake in horse paper the Daily Racing Form. Why the same company would want both a war robots maker and horse racing we may never know, but we can happily speculate.

As for the Roomba side of things? iRobot seems to do perfectly fine on that end, even if nature abhors a vacuum.