Ross Wilkers

M&A

FLIR gets more than robots with Endeavor deal

FLIR Systems clearly eyes more production capability and a more diverse portfolio of platform offerings through its $385 million cash agreement to acquire unmanned ground vehicle maker Endeavor Robotics, formerly the iRobot defense business.

But Endeavor also brings to the equation the underlying software and interoperability offerings it has developed to not only deploy and manage robots in the field but also help them work autonomously, President Tom Frost told me Wednesday.

Those digital technologies along with the Endeavor vehicle lineup, plus FLIR’s own library of unmanned platforms and sensors position both sides to better support what Frost called “the battlefield of the future.”

Frost said in that future and “even the battlefield of the present today you have robots that are operating on the ground, you have multiple robots that are operating in the air and you have robots that are operating in the seas.”

“And when you bring all that together, you talk about all those robots sharing information, providing a networked-radio solution so that all those robots are part of the same radio mesh network and they build upon each other,” Frost said.

“They extract different information from the environment from different perspectives and share that information amongst them so you get a more holistic picture of the battlefield.”

On Feb. 13, FLIR executives outlined their rationale for the deal to investors and said the addition of Endeavor can help further advance sensors that incorporate artificial intelligence and other autonomous functions in the field. FLIR CEO Jim Cannon also said the company wants to position itself to better help facilitate collaborative missions of manned and unmanned platforms, plus the latter’s human operators as well.

Endeavor will become a part of FLIR’s unmanned systems and solutions group that already includes a pair of acquired drone making businesses in Aeryon Labs and Prox Dynamics.

There is also the expectation Endeavor and FLIR hold that spending on unmanned ground vehicles will only grow, particularly as the U.S. military prioritizes longer-term programs of record that cover the entire acquisition lifecycle versus the quick-turn buys that dominated the mid-2000s.

Frost said that in his almost 22-year career in the market, “there is more demand now for unmanned ground vehicles” than ever.

The concept of manned-unmanned teaming is one that Endeavor has honed on not only in the hardware manufacturing side of its business but also the software and interoperability side. For example, Endeavor has built a new controller that works to manage many different types of robots regardless of who made them or even how old they are.

That controller is essentially “one tablet to control all the systems in the environment,” Frost said, versus the prior concept of “one-to-one matching” of a single controller paired with just one robot at a time.

So what does FLIR like in Endeavor? Both companies have already worked together, Frost said, through partnerships that saw Endeavor integrate FLIR’s cameras and chemical and explosive sensors on the ground robots.

“This will give us greater access to their sensor technology… they also have a lot of work going on in the artificial intelligence and machine learning areas where they have algorithms that can run on top of those sensors and extract meaningful, intelligent data from those sensors,” Frost said.

“The future of robots is intelligent operation, autonomy but also coupling between the different domains so air systems working in concert with ground systems and that really opens up a whole new set of possibilities on what we can do with robotics.”

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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