Tuesday, October 30, 2007, 10/30/2007 01:48:00 PM

Danger Will Robinson!!! U.S. Army Tells Robotic Fx To Call Off The Robots - For Now

By Todd
DefenseNews.com is reporting that the U.S. Army has temporarily stopped a $280 million contract given to Robotic Fx to build up to 3,000 bomb-clearing combat robots, after rival robot-maker iRobot filed two lawsuits and protested the award with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), claiming Robotic Fx stole patented designs and ripped off its trade secrets.

The fate of the contract award is unclear. The delivery of the robots is on hold pending further inquiry, Army contracting officer Joanne Byrd said in a written statement.

Robotic Fx, Alsip, Ill., beat out iRobot, Burlington, Mass., for the U.S. Robotic Systems Joint Project Office xBot competition to deliver less-than-50-pound, remote-controlled robots able to beam sensor images back from caves, buildings and hostile areas.

The robots have been classed as an urgent need, as requested by Army and Marine Corps commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“After careful consideration and consultation with cognizant legal and procurement officials, I have determined that the protests, though not clearly meritorious, raise questions regarding the award,” Byrd wrote to the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency.

The Army is now conducting a formal reassessment of Robotic Fx and its ability to complete the xBot contract, Byrd said.

If Robotic Fx is determined to be unable to fulfill the xBot contract, the matter will be referred to the Government Contracting Area Office and the Small Business Administration, which will decide whether to issue Robotic Fx a Certificate of Competency, Byrd wrote. If Robotic Fx is not awarded this certificate, the xBot contract award will be given to iRobot.

iRobot had asked a U.S. federal court to enjoin Robotic Fx from fulfilling the contract. The request for injunction is now moot, iRobot lawyer Michael Bunis wrote in an Oct. 24 letter to the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.

“On October 23, 2007, we were informed by the U.S. Army that it has taken corrective action in response to our bid protest including setting aside the award to Robotic Fx Inc. and conducting a reassessment to Robotic Fx’s responsibility to perform the xBot contract in light of information now in the possession of the contracting officer,” iRobot Chief Executive Colin Angle wrote in a statement.

In September, officials with the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office had asked the courts to allow Robotic Fx to complete the work.

“If these systems are not sent to the theater in the most expedient manner, a far greater number of soldiers and Marines will be placed in danger,” wrote Marine Col. Edward Ward, the office’s division chief for program management.

We reported on this trade secret dispute earlier on October 22.

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