BP Unleashes Profits at iRobot

Have you ever read a news story, heavy on "facts" but short on investable details about the companies involved, and wondered: "Gee, could my stock be part of that?"

I have. In fact, ever since the Deepwater Horizon exploded down in the Gulf of Mexico, hardly a day has gone by without one news article or another mentioning how "robotic submarines are being used to observe this," and "robots are doing that." Seems underwater robots are very busy these days, trying to get a handle on the scale of the disaster, and bring BP's (NYSE: BP  ) massive leak under control. 

But which robots, exactly? Who makes them? And how can I invest in them?

Well, today we got one answer.

iRobot glides to the rescue
In a press release this morning, Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT  ) confirmed that it's providing at least some of the robots currently swarming 'round the spill. Specifically, the company's "Seaglider" Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV). According to iRobot, scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Washington are using the UUV -- one of three maritime robot models manufactured by iRobot since its 2008 acquisition of Nekton Research -- to keep tabs on the oil spill.

Granted, the bulk of the work at the "Macondo Prospect" (the well Deepwater Horizon was drilling) must still be done by OPR (Other People's Robots). BP named Oceaneering International (NYSE: OII  ) in particular as a provider of robots to both Transocean (NYSE: RIG  ) and to itself, and confirmed that that firm's submersibles are currently engaged in the efforts to stop up the leak. With Macondo's wellhead being located some 5,000 feet below sea level, and the Seaglider being rated for depths of no more than 3,300 feet, there's little iRobot can do to fix the actual leak.

Revenue streams unleashed
But it can help with keeping track of the disaster. Unlike Oceaneering's typical robots, tethered to their operators on the surface, the unleashed Seaglider is free to roam the oceans across "thousands of miles." According to iRobot: "Seaglider can provide up to 10 months of continuous operation, and data can be transmitted via satellite several times each day to anywhere in the world."

BP warns that it could take as long as August before it can get relief wells drilled, and the leak stopped for good. Yet the slick already extends across some 2,500 square miles in area on the surface, and also underwater. As it expands, in area and in volume, we may need UUVs like Seaglider to keep track of it over the months (years?) to come.

Sounds like iRobot has just discovered a new revenue plume ... er, stream.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of iRobot, which is also a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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