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iRobot re-org aims to enable company to dedicate more resources to emerging applications

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 28, 2012 07:05 PM

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Bedford-based iRobot is announcing a reorganization tonight that will create a new emerging technology division at the company, in addition to the more established businesses focusing on home robots like the Roomba and military robots like the Packbot. The company is also naming a new chief operating officer: Jeff Beck, who'd previously led iRobot's consumer division. Chief executive Colin Angle says that no jobs will be lost as part of the reorg. The company laid off about 55 employees last October, anticipating a drop in its military revenues.

The new structure "will allow us to pursue new opportunities more aggressively," says Angle. "Before, if you wanted to create a small business unit to pursue some new application, you had to beg for resources from a division that was designed to do something else. We think this will give us a more efficient, steerable organization that's able to put energy against these new market opportunities."

What, specifically? I asked Angle if the company was interested in the kinds of warehouse robots that companies like Kiva Systems and Symbotic (formerly CasePick) are selling. "We're less interested in that," he said. "We're active in healthcare, with our InTouch partnership that's working on remote presence technology for doctors, and we're interested in mobile, connected robots for security and retail." A retailbot, he said, "could interact with customers, help them find products they need, and serve up information. The shopper can have the best of both worlds: the kind of comparison of product features that you get online, with the instant gratification of taking home the product." All three of those new applications could take advantage of iRobot's Ava platform for mobile robots (pictured at right.) And all three areas, Angle added, "are multi-billion-dollar markets ripe for disruption with our technology."

A leader for iRobot's new emerging technology division hasn't yet been chosen. Mark Dinee will run the new home robots division, and Tim Trainer will head the division devoted to building bots for the military. iRobot has sold more than 7.5 million home robots, and delivered 4,500 robots to the armed forces.

Earlier this month, iRobot shares lost about one-third of their value as drastic cuts in defense spending began to seem inevitable. In January, iRobot made a $6 million investment in InTouch Health, a company developing telemedicine products.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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