iRobot, known for its popular Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, has long been rumored to be interested in building a robot lawn mower. Well, that rumor is now one step closer to being a reality after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted a waiver to iRobot for the way the device operates.
iRobot’s robot lawn mower would wirelessly map your lawn using stakes in the ground to determine where the yard ends. Some feared the stakes, which would stick out of the ground up to 24 inches, would interfere with the communication of other devices.
Earlier this year, comments were filed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) that said the radio frequency the robot lawn mower operated on, 5925-6700 MHz, would interfere with radio astronomy operations. However, the FCC authorized iRobot’s request because it did not “frustrate” the FCC’s Section 15.250(c) rule.
“We find that granting this waiver is in the public interest because it will enable iRobot to market its robotic lawn mower without posing a significant risk of harmful interference to authorized users of the radio spectrum,” the FCC says.
“The FCC’s assessment agrees with our analysis that the technology will not have a negative impact on radio astronomy,” iRobot’s spokesman said in a statement welcoming the FCC’s move.
“The FCC’s decision will allow iRobot to continue exploring the viability of wideband, alongside other technologies, as part of a long-term product exploration effort in the lawn mowing category.”
The wireless stake system from iRobot is certainly different from the other robot lawn mowers available, such as the Robomow RS630, which require you to place wires around the perimeter of your yard to create boundaries for the robot. But keep in mind, if you have flower beds or other potential “keep-out areas” in the middle of the lawn, you’ll have to run wire around those areas as well.
Now it’s not exactly clear how iRobot’s wireless system would work, and the company even says the FCC waiver will let it “continue exploring the viability of wideband, alongside other technologies, as part of a long-term product exploration effort in the lawn mowing category.”
So iRobot’s lawn mower probably won’t be available any time soon, and how it works could change. And maybe that’s a good thing for the company. It already has a lot of competition and John Deere, perhaps the most renowned lawn mower brand, is working with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to make the boundary system obsolete on robot mowers.
UIUC is outfitting John Deere’s Tango robotic lawn mower with its omnidirectional-vision-based system that would make for a much easier setup without needing boundary wires. The UIUC vision system would also enable robot lawn mowers to better navigate a plot of land by making cleaner, straighter lines and noticing things like rocks and other obstructions. The technology has been in development for three years and is expected to be finished this summer.
“Our system has the potential to enable no-infrastructure installations and perform positioning of the robot for non-random path mowing,” says UIUC mechanical science and engineering PhD candidate Junho Yang, who is building the technology alongside professors Soon-Jo Chung and Seth Hutchinson. “We are trying to make the vision processing and estimation more robust to disturbance and noise.”