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    iRobot turns to the nuclear industry

    Bedford company seeking new markets as cuts loom at Pentagon

    Robots assisted Japan with radiation monitoring last year.

    The robot maker iRobot Corp., which is exploring new markets in the face of looming cuts in defense spending, is expected to announce on Monday its first sale to a domestic nuclear power plant operator.

    The Bedford company will reveal that it sold three robots, each priced between $300,000 and $400,000, to Progress Energy, a company in North Carolina, for use in the H. B. Robinson Nuclear Generating Station in Hartsville, S.C. The robots are identical to four that were sent to Japan to help monitor radiation and assist with the cleanup at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after it was damaged in an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

    iRobot’s Warrior model has been used to perform military missions. In an industrial setting, it would conduct inspections and perform routine maintenance.

    The robots, models 710 Warrior and 510 PackBot, have also been used to perform military missions in dangerous or hazardous conditions. In an industrial setting, however, they will conduct inspections and perform routine maintenance, said Tim Trainer, general manager of iRobot’s government and industrial robots division.


    “The philosophy is much the same as in the military or in disasters,’’ Trainer said. “The robot allows you to have eyes and ears in areas that may be dangerous to workers.’’

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    The success in Japan paved the way for iRobot to sell robots to industrial customers. The company, which also makes consumer products, including the Roomba and Scooba floor-cleaning robots for home use, is looking to expand its nonmilitary business.

    In January, it was announced that the Pentagon plans to reduce its budget by $450 billion over the next decade. On Feb. 9, iRobot stock dropped more than 34 percent to $25.17 per share after chief executive Colin Angle predicted a contract to equip Army brigades with 160 robots would be cut in half. The shares closed at $27.26 on Friday.

    “The military no longer presents the attractive market for iRobot and other innovators,’’ said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at consulting group Lexington Institute in Virginia. “What’s nice about iRobot’s technology is it can be used in many different markets, and what works in Afghanistan can be equally effective in an industrial setting.’’

    Trainer said iRobot would continue to sell robots to the military, but he hopes the deal with Progress Energy will lead to more industrial sales.


    “It’s an adjacent market that we can apply our investment and technology to,’’ he said. “The military will always be a significant part of our business, but expanding will allow us to weather the flattening defense budget.’’

    Gail Waterhouse can be reached at