Woulda, shoulda, coulda. Heck of an investing thesis there, Rick.

Woulda
Pop quiz: What's Rule No. 1 in rule-breaking investing? Invest in the first mover.

That's got me wondering whether iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) is a "rule breaker" at all. It started operations in 1990 -- meaning it came almost two decades late to the party. Toyota's (NYSE:TM) been doing robots since the 1970s, and it's already moving into the consumer market with its Partner Robots project. Honda (NYSE:HMC) has been working on ASIMO since 1986. Far from being the first mover, iRobot is actually No. 3 in non-military robots.

Shoulda
Sixteen years into its business, you'd hope to see a real Rule Breaker come up with something more impressive than a dust-sucking Frisbee on wheels. Or a mini-tank that forgot the gun.

Because pictures are worth 1,000 words, and I've got limited space to make this argument, I want you all to take a moment and click through those links above. Go ahead, I'll wait.

See the difference in sophistication between the Toyota/Honda robots, and the Roomba? Now compare the PackBot to the competition's offering (this little monster, the Talon, is manufactured by Foster-Miller, part of Britain's Qinetiq).

Five pictures, but they speak volumes about just how far behind the curve iRobot truly is.

Coulda
As for guesstimating how much this fourth-string contender could earn in five years -- when it's not earning a red cent in real cash profits today -- that's an exercise in pure guesswork. If iRobot hasn't produced dime one in cash profits after 16 years in business, I'm less than sanguine about estimates of its future profitability.

Sure, iRobot might be a big winner for investors. And a PackBot might be able to survive 30 seconds in a ring with a Talon. But don't bet on either.

Read more about the true robotics leaders in:

Think you're done with the Duel? You're not! Go back and read the other three arguments, and then vote for a winner.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position, short or long, in iRobot. The company is a recommendation of Motley Fool Rule Breakers . The Fool has an iron giant of a disclosure policy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.