Opportunities for Non-Military Robots Increase

Related topics: Farming · Government · Mining
As the United States combat presence scales down in the Iraq and Afghanistan regions, so does US military spending on robotics, says Valerie Insinna, Staff Writer for the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). In her recent article Opportunities for Non-Military Robots Increase, Insinna focuses on how Robotics companies will soon find it necessary to look to other markets as defense resources dry up. Many companies are already looking to consumer products and agriculture.

"In the past, defense and security sales made up about 40 percent of iRobot's revenue," Insinna quoted Matthew Lloyd, spokesman of iRobot. "Because of decreased contracts with the military and a 28-percent increase in sales of its home robots such as the Roomba, sales of defense robots are now only 10 percent of the company's business."

Several years ago, Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) found itself with a similar need to innovate. Previous to 2008, ASI relied primarily on military research grants and partnerships with Department of Defense prime contractors. Much of that business dried up as the recession hit commercial and government budgets heavily in 2008.

ASI's President and CEO, Mel Torrie, realized that something needed to happen.

"It was innovate or die at that point," said Torrie. "We recognized that we needed to make a fundamental change not only to where we were getting our business, but also to the kind of offering we provide to our customers." Starting in 2008, ASI expanded product offerings to markets in the private sector.

"Throughout the years, we have done projects in agriculture and mining, so we had a good foundation of understanding and experience to move us into those industries," said Torrie.

"We also recognized that we needed to innovate from being primarily a project-based company to being a product-based company. Some of that transition is still in progress, but we feel that it better positions us to provide what our customers need."

In 2011, ASI also added automotive proving grounds to its pillar markets. Torrie explained that catering to three out of four markets dominated by the private sector will insulate ASI from future downturns in the US military budget as well as downturns in any single industry.

"Long term," Torrie continued, "robotics is going to be critical to the military side of things, so we still have an emphasis there. We have several key product offerings that thrive in both domestic and international military environments. But we've found success in spreading our universal automation technologies into other markets.

"We feel that ASI is well positioned for the foreseeable future and ahead of many companies that are just now finding the need to innovate."

Read more about the future of military ground robotics in the NDIA article: Opportunities for Non-Military Robots Increase.