October 24, 2004 9:00 PM PDT

iRobot readies for war--and the household

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Robot specialist iRobot is teaming with John Deere to go to war.

The Burlington, Mass.-based iRobot will develop a robot vehicle for combat with the tractor manufacturer, said CEO Colin Angle in an interview at RoboNexus International, a robot conference that took place here last week. The vehicle will be based on Deere's M Gator, which is currently employed by the military, but it will be able to drive and guide itself after some human guidance.

Additionally, iRobot, the manufacturer of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, will come out with another line of robotic home appliances next year, he said.

After years of unfulfilled promise, the market for robots appears to be gaining steam, thanks to technological advancements and improved marketing.

iRobot has sold 1 million Roombas in about two years. Hospitals have begun to experiment with using robots to dispense medicines, and other institutions are looking at using robots that can venture into hazardous environments such as collapsed mine shafts to collect data or clean up toxic messes.

The military is buying them, too. The United States has deployed more than 50 PackBots--the military robot developed by iRobot--in Iraq. Others were sent to explore caves in Afghanistan.

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