iRobot hasn't given up on developing Roomba's lawn mowing sibling

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Mariella Moon
April 10, 2015 10:59 AM
In this article: fcc, irobot, lawnmower, roomba
iRobot hasn't given up on developing Roomba's lawn mowing sibling

You know how long it's been since we first heard that iRobot's making a robotic lawn mower? Nine years. After almost a decade of wondering if we'll ever see Roomba's more outdoorsy sibling, iRobot's finally giving us a glimpse of how the device will work through an FCC filing. Other robot lawn mowers require you to prep your lawn by burying wires around the perimeter -- the machines will recognize those wires and won't venture beyond them. iRobot, however, plans to use a wireless beacon system that entails burying four to nine beacons to mark the edges of your lawn. Those beacons will calculate the robots' position within the property and transmit it to the machine.

Sounds good, thus far, right? After all, beacons are already being used for both indoor and outdoor navigation, in airports, stores, ballparks, among other locations. Unfortunately, iRobot wants its beacons to broadcast data in the 6240-6740 MHz range. That's the same frequency the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is using to watch the universe. The radio telescopes operating in that range are scouring space for an abundance in methanol, which usually indicates a star-forming region.

NRAO's astronomers aren't happy with iRobot's plans and are officially contesting the company's request. iRobot, on the other hand, argues that NRAO's facilities are far from residential areas, and there's very little chance of its lawnmowers disrupting the astronomers' research. Thus, the future of Roomba for lawns depends on the FCC's decision and on iRobot's backup plans, in case the agency sides with NRAO.

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[Image credit: Herry Lawford/Flickr, altered to show Roomba on a lawn]

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