ROBOTICS

Roboteam seeks its share of unmanned ground space

On the surface, one $9.8 million contract and a second $25 million award to produce unmanned ground vehicles certainly hits on industry buzzwords but may not appear to move the revenue needle significantly.

But both those awards represented key points of entry into the market for Shahar Abuhazira and his group at Gaithersburg, Md.-based Roboteam. The company was founded in 2009 and Abuhazira came on board in 2012 as head of sales and marketing with his appointment as CEO one year later.

The first contract for 100 tactical reconnaissance robots from the Defense Department came in the summer of 2012. A second award from the Air Force in September 2015 for a man-carried variant beat out the likes of QinetiQ and the business now known as Endeavor Robotics (then iRobot).

Abuhazira told Washington Technology Roboteam saw opportunity after the war in Afghanistan as the military realized the handling of hazardous materials and improvised explosive devices required specialized units.

Abuhazira declined to disclose Roboteam’s specific revenue figures but described sales as in the “dozens of millions” range per year. The company also has about 150 employees with 85 percent of them U.S. military veterans. Production facilities are located in Baltimore and Pennsylvania.

Roboteam’s portfolio comprises four robots that range from lightweight to those built for heavy payloads and a fifth vehicle is listed on the company website as “coming soon.”

Opportunities arose in the unmanned ground market much in the same way their aerial counterparts saw increased proliferation, according to Abuhazira.

“You see UAVs not only going for special air units but for everybody. I think the UGV market is having exactly same thing right now with the maturing of the technology,” Abuhazira said. “What’s happening for UAVs is what’s happening for UGVs.”

Roboteam is also one of 18 companies participating in the $49.5 million Culvert Denial Challenge first awarded in 2014 for improvised explosive device detection technologies.

The Army Research Laboratory and Joint Improvised Explosive Devices Defeat Organization launched that challenge to identify platforms they believe could help find IEDs in structures such as culverts that let water flow under a railroad, road, trail or other obstruction.

“You can see more requirements for robotic solutions in different applications and not only for DoD as the technology is changing,” Abuhazira said. Law enforcement is one market he offered as an example that has many of the same requirements as military users and an area Roboteam is pursuing.

Law enforcement agencies have “higher sensitivities” on purchase price and maintenance costs, he said, and the military requires higher capability in the robots.

“Even though law enforcement is following the military in terms of capability, they’re looking for robots without the special features the military wants. They don’t need it.”

Both the Army and Navy have ground robot competitions ongoing with awards due later this year; another indication that the UGV market is a growing opportunity for industry.

The Navy’s Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotics System Increments 2 and 3 contract is for robots between 160-180 pounds to use in reconnaissance missions. An award is expected in May, according to Deltek.

The Army’s Man Transportable Robotic System Increment 2 eyes robots between 160-185 pounds that soldiers use to identify and counter hazards in theater. Awards should come in July.

A second Army contract -- Common Robotic System Individual -- seeks robots less than 25 pounds with payloads for use in multiple missions such as those involving surveillance, bombs or hazardous materials. This contract will be awarded in August, according to Deltek.

The video below demonstrates some of the capabilities Roboteam is bringing to market.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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