iRobot spinoff sells throwable robot to Marines

Defense has become an important early market for commercial robotics companies, as autonomous and teleoperated platforms edge onto battlefields.

The US Marine Corps just awarded $10 million for a ruggedized "throwable" robot useful in situational assessment in tactical situations.

The platform is made by Endeavor Robotics, which was previously known as iRobot's Defense & Security Business Unit. iRobot spun the unit off and sold to Arlington Capital in 2016.

Read also: "First-ever" use of a robot in a military breaching exercise

Endeavor recently landed two additional Marine Corps contracts totaling $24 million, a sign of the growing role defense interests are playing in the robotics industry. Another Endeavor robot was named one of two finalists in an Army down-select competition that will anoint a common man-packable (sub-25 pound) ground robot for Army deployment.

That contract is worth $429 million.

Overall, the market for military robots is projected to be worth more than $30 billion by 2022 as war planners increasingly move away from large manned systems like fighter jets and manned attack vehicles.

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iRobot was an outlier as a consumer robotics company with a defense arm prior to its sale of Endeavor, but many commercial and healthcare robotics companies have lucrative (and often secretive) units that cater to defense and security.

Ekso Bionics and Sarcos, both of which make exoskeletons, also serve defense interests, for example. Both received DARPA funding early in their histories.

About 1,000 of Endeavor's throwable FirstLook robots have been sold to military and law enforcement worldwide. At five pounds, the ruggedized remotely controlled bot can survive a 20-foot fall onto concrete and climb seven-inch steps via a projecting cam.

It was designed to be tossed through a window or into a tunnel to clear buildings and caves or search out IEDs. Equipped with low-light cameras and two-way audio, it can also act as a proxy for nearby negotiators during standoffs.

A competing ground robot from Israel's General Robotics performs many of the same functions. Terrifyingly, the General Robotics machine also packs a Glock 9mm, which can be remotely fired.