It was backed as the favourite to win a lucrative contract with the US military to provide robots for use in the Middle East, but robot company iRobot was beaten at the post by fellow robot specialist Robotic Fx.

Both companies have become well known competitors for the domestic robot market – think vacuum cleaners – and are currently playing out a patent battle over the US military-used Packbot and Negotiator designs.

The Packbot, in use since 2002, is an explosive device-detecting remote controlled robot that iRobot claims has been copied by Robotic Fx for its Negotiator design.

According to a report on news service Reuters yesterday, competition between the companies is heating up even further with Robotic Fx winning the recent US defence contract – earmarked by analysts and industry experts alike to go to iRobot.

It is believed the new robots will be able to navigate terrain and obstacles, peer around corners and lay a cover of smoke while testing for chemical weapons in difficult conditions in the Middle East.

The contract loss equalled a drop in iRobot shares on Monday morning by $5.34 to $18.28.

Neither company has commented on the decision.

By Penny Jones