iRobot sets path to Latin America, China: CEO

By @ibtimes on

iRobot Corp, whose products clean homes and disarm bombs in war zones, expects to see better growth overseas this year as the United States, its domestic market, keeps a tight rein on spending.

The company -- whose top-selling markets for its home products are in Japan and Europe -- is expanding into Latin America, a market that co-founder and Chief Executive Colin Angle estimates could be worth $200 million a year for vacuum cleaners selling at above $200. It expects to launch in China next year.

The company's products for the home, about three-quarters of which are abroad, account for 64 percent of total sales.

We're expecting more growth internationally this year than domestically, predominantly due to the budget challenges we've been observing in Washington, but it (the United States) is a market we have and continue to invest in, Angle said in a telephone interview.

iRobot's international sales account for more than half its total revenue. The company had total 2010 sales of $401 million.

We are actively looking at good acquisition targets, Angle said. At the end of the first quarter, we had over $120 million in the bank as well as lines of credit, and the resources to make acquisitions should we find targets that meet our criteria. We intend to pursue this.

For it to be a good acquisition for iRobot, it would either need to be a technology which would have primary benefit in robotics that will be a game changer, or a product that could benefit from our brand and scale and market access, he said.

Bedford, Massachusetts-based iRobot makes the Roomba home vacuum cleaning robot, which has sold more than 6 million units worldwide, and the Scooba floor washing robot.

The home products compete against those from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and AB Electrolux.

Its PackBots have been used to disarm bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and were deployed to gather data at the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan earlier this year.

The company also sees better growth abroad than at home for its government and industrial products -- the company started out as IS Robotics in 1990 and worked with NASA on lunar and Mars remote-controlled rover projects like the Sojourner.

The PackBot and iRobot's new generation Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) compete against QinetiQ Group Plc's Talon and Dragon Runner.

Its heavier-class Warrior robot competes with the ANDROS robot from Remotec, a unit of Northrop Grumman Corp, which featured in the Oscar-winning movie 'The Hurt Locker'.

iRobot shares have trebled in the past two years, but are down by almost a fifth since hitting a life high of $39 in late-April.

(Reporting by Soham Chatterjee in Bangalore, Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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