iRobot may be best known for its cute cleaning bots, but the company's origins are as much about military hardware as home helpers. It won its first major contract with DARPA in 1998, and in 2002 deployed its robots with American troops — the same year, coincidentally, that the Roomba went on sale. But bots of war apparently aren't worth it any more. Last week, iRobot announced it was getting out of the military business, selling its defense and security team to a private equity firm for $45 million.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward: military hardware doesn't make as much money as consumer goods. In the first nine months of 2015, iRobot made $24.5 million in revenue from its defense and security business, while its home robots division pulled in $384 million. The company has been under pressure from shareholders to focus on the home, with investor Red Mountain Capital, (which owns a 6.1 percent stake in iRobot) urging it give up its "continued commitment to the sub-scale, unprofitable and declining [military business]," in favor of "high margin" home robots. iRobot itself notes that despite the general malaise in the economy (who buys a floor cleaning bot in a recession?), its products are still selling fairly well in the US, and it has high hopes for expansion in China.
iRobot's military bots were all about distancing soldiers from danger
Still, there's no ignoring the fact that the US military is an incredibly important engine for driving research into robotics (among many other things). After all, the most famous robotics company of the 2010s, Boston Dynamics, also got its start with DARPA contracts before being snapped up by Google in 2013. That's not saying that decommissioned military bots are going to end up cleaning your house of course, but it's still interesting to check out the capabilities of iRobot's more "unprofitable" creations. Here are some of their most popular military bots: