Shares of iRobot were off 35 cents, or 1.7%, to $19.64 in recent trading. The company' stock is down almost 20% since news last Monday that it lost a much-anticipated
military contract to a private competitor, Robotic FX. With ConnectR, its communications robot, iRobot seems to be digging deeper into a niche market. The ConnectR robot links to a home wireless network and provides VoIP-quality video and two-way audio. The device has a full tilt-and-zoom video camera, speaker, microphone and headlight to enable its users to interact with people in the home as if they're in person, says iRobot. The device is steered around the house through a computer. The company is hoping ConnectR will appeal to families, but its $500 pricetag could bring sticker shock to many potential customers. iRobot has a pilot program starting later this year to make it available to select customers for $199, but the company isn't accepting new participants into the program. The high price and the device's lack of a clear value proposition could make its prospects dead on arrival. "It's a niche concept product that may not even make it to full mass production," says James Ricchiuti, an analyst with Needham, in a note. Needham has an investment banking relationship with iRobot and makes a market in iRobot shares.