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US 'robot surge' deal re-inked after droid piracy fracas

Roomba maker set to build mechanoid legions

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Noted droid manufacturer iRobot has this week landed a major contract from the US Army, after the deal had initially been awarded to a competitor. However, iRobot successfully argued that its rival, Robotic FX, had stolen its technology.

The deal in question is known as "xBot" and could be worth as much as $300m for no fewer than 3,000 droid soldiers to be rushed into the Southwest Asian fighting. Some have dubbed it the "robotic surge" mirroring the current US surge in numbers of ground troops in Iraq.

In September, the Army declared that Robotic FX - run by former iRobot employee Jameel Ahed - had landed the lucrative deal following an unusual reverse auction process.

However, iRobot - which has already delivered over 1,000 military robots, and also makes the famous Roomba autonomous floor-cleaner - wasn't taking this lying down. They mounted a lawsuit alleging that Ahed had stolen proprietary iRobot technology when he left their employment.

Wired magazine reported on Tuesday that Ahed, who ran Robotic FX out of his dentist father's office building, was slapped down by a federal beak for failing to comply with a court order to preserve all evidence relating to the suit. Supposedly the engineer erased disks, hid computers and threw various related materials in the dumpster.

The judge said that Ahed's conduct "gives rise to a strong inference of consciousness of guilt".

Now the xBot contract has been taken away from Robotic FX and given to iRobot. The company said that the droid surge will begin immediately.

The Wired report can be read here. ®

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