iRobot shares suffer, but future looks bright

Published 26 February 2007

Company predicts lower-than-expected earnings in 2007; Roomba and PackBot make an unlikely kinship; coordinating networks of PackBots the next big challenge as Helen Grenier looks to develop packs of surveillance droids

One does not have to attend a defense trade show to understand why Burlington, Massachusetts-based iRobot’s has been so succesful with its versatile PackBot and complementary explosive sensor suite the ICx Fido. For a company in the homeland security and defense business, the company is unique in that many civilian consumers have its products in their homes. Our readers have perhaps heard of the Roomba vacuum cleanner? The amazing discus-shaped robot moves autonomously through one’s house, using sensor technology to avoid walls and calculatedly cover the entire floor without repeating its work. With strong positions in the government and public markets (making up one-third and two-thirds of the comany’s revenue, respectively) it is no wonder a recent initial public offering last year earned $70 million last year.

Unfortunately, the company has been suffering as of late. The company recently reported a quarterly net loss of $1.8 million, or 8 cents per share, versus a profit of $15,000 in 2005. Yet although analysts anticipated those losses, iRobot’s projected 2007 income of $2 million to $4 million was much lower than a Wall Street consensus of $8.5 million. This is not promising news, but in an interview before the release company co-founder Helen Greiner was emphatic that she was not interested in following industry trends by selling out to a larger company. “I don’t believe the greatest return for our shareholders before our IPO or today is an acquisition,” said Grenier. “The opportunity we are tackling here is mind-bogglingly large