Question: What do you get when you cross a Roomba with a destroyer escort?
Answer: "A high-speed, high-payload capable craft with excellent sea keeping characteristics, along with a state-of-the-art unmanned navigation and autonomous control capability that includes 360-degree situational awareness," that can piggyback on the new Littoral Combat Ship, and be deployed to help hunt enemy submarines semi-independently.
OK, that's not as punchy as your usual "cross-with" joke. But in my defense, I didn't write the press release. General Dynamics (NYSE: GD ) did, describing its latest venture into military robotics -- and into competition with robotics pioneer and Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT ) .
Briefly, General D is building the Navy a pair of "Anti-Submarine Warfare Unmanned Surface Vehicles" (ASW USVs), endearingly christened the "11MUC0601" and "11MUC0602." (Let's just call them the "USVs.") Reportedly able to travel at speeds exceeding 35 knots and to operate continuously for 24 hours before returning to the "mother ship" for refueling, the new USVs will be tasked with defending ports and water passages, as well as providing antisubmarine warfare capability to fleets at sea.
But whatever the vehicles' merits -- and since they're not due to be delivered until next month, those merits are as-yet untested -- you have to admire the General's skill at "hitting 'em where they ain't."
General Dynamics may have a tough time unseating iRobot as one of the world leaders in "rolling" military robots. And it doesn't appear to be trying much to compete in the field of flying robots, where everyone from Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC ) to Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT ) to Boeing (NYSE: BA ) to Textron (NYSE: TXT ) seems to have its own pet flying warplane project. Rather, General D is taking to the seas, and building stuff that the other guys haven't yet thought of, in environments they may not know much about navigating.
That's the sort of outside-the-sandbox thinking that avoids competition, and rewards investors.