The true story of an iRobot spy and a $300 million theft

Who stole the sole?

Noah “Red Hot” Shachtman wrote a great piece on an iRobot insider who stole the plans for the company’s military Packbot robot and recreated the robot himself, becoming a direct competitor to iRobot. The thief, Jameel Ahed, was frustrated because he wasn’t given full control over the project. He quit the company and, after reworking the design, was able to recreate the Packbot’s special rotating paddles which kept it upright on rocky terrain.

Ahed started a company called Robotic FX and almost beat out iRobot for a military contract, leading the company to bring a lawsuit against one of its top engineers.

On Monday, August 20, a district court judge in Alabama issued a temporary restraining order against Robotic FX, demanding that it preserve “all evidence, information, data, and documents.” The next day, iRobot’s lawyers showed up at Robotic FX’s office, US marshals in tow.

They searched the office, then Ahed’s parents’ house, and finally headed to Hill’s apartment in Chicago. Ahed and Hill got there first, barely, and went in through the back door. Hill let the marshals in the front while Ahed ran to the bedroom. His laptop was there, its screen displaying a message that the hard drive had been wiped clean. He unplugged it, put it in a case, and slid the case underneath the bed. Then he went to the living room, where the marshals were asking Hill where the computers were. She didn’t mention the laptop. They found it anyway.

Ahed is currently banned from competing in robotics and iRobot eventually bought his assets, essentially folding in his copycat robot back into its own project. IP theft doesn’t pay, kids.