It is finally happening. Kind of. iRobot will launch in 2019 its Terra robot lawn mower. The company has not announced specific availability or pricing, but it did say the Terra robot lawn mower will be available this year in Germany and as a beta program in the U.S.
This is a much-anticipated announcement — and worst-kept secret — that the Bedford, Mass.-based Roomba maker has been coy about for years. There has been talk of an iRobot mower since at least 2006. When asked to explain the beta program in the U.S., an iRobot spokesperson said details will be available closer to the start of the program. But a full launch in Germany and a beta launch stateside shows iRobot is more confident in markets outside of the U.S., as it should be with this product.
The main difference between the Terra robot lawn mower and the competition is ease of use, something iRobot knows a thing or two about. Instead of having to bury and run boundary wires throughout a yard, iRobot claims that it will simplify the process for consumers.
Users need to place wireless beacons around their yards and manually drive the Terra robot lawn mower around to teach it the layout. iRobot said the beacons can be pushed or hammered into the ground. They need to remain in place throughout the mowing season. Terra uses the beacons to calculate its position in the yard. The robot will operate autonomously after the initial training run. This is similar to how many autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) map logistics facilities.
Another benefit of Terra is that it mows in straight, back-and-forth lines, the same way most humans would. Surprisingly, many robot lawn mowers do not work that way. If the battery runs low, the Terra robot lawn mower returns to its charging base to recharge and picks up where it left off. It is compatible with iRobot’s HOME App, so users can adjust Terra’s mowing height and mowing schedule.
“iRobot is building an ecosystem of robots and technologies that help people do more both inside and outside of the home,” said Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot. “The robot mower segment is well established in EMEA and has tremendous room for growth in other markets, including North America.”
iRobot was tight-lipped about many of Terra’s specs, but it did shed light on its safety features: “Terra has several built-in safety mechanisms so that the blades will stop rotating if the robot is ever tilted or lifted. The handle of the robot is linked to a lift sensor, so that when the handle is lifted, the robot will turn off. A tilt sensor will detect if the robot tilts to an abnormal degree, shutting down the robot if triggered.
“Additionally, if the robot bumps into an object, the robot will recognize this and changes its direction, and if the robot is ever delocalized — meaning it is not completely sure where it is in the yard — it will turn off to ensure that it will remain in the designated lawn area at all times. There is also a prominent red ‘STOP’ button on the top of the robot. Terra is also equipped with theft-protection software.”
Wireless communication system
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted iRobot a waiver for its wireless communication system. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) filed comments to the FCC that said the radio frequency the robot lawn mower operated on 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 said at the time.
“The FCC’s assessment agrees with our analysis that the technology will not have a negative impact on radio astronomy,” iRobot said at the time. “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.”
Jumpstarting U.S. robot lawn mower market
The U.S. robot lawn mower market is way behind other countries, including many in Europe, which the Associated Press reports has a $300 million robot lawn mower industry. iRobot is hoping to accomplish with robot lawn mowing what it accomplished with robot vacuuming. But getting there might be more difficult this time with Terra.
When Roomba launched in 2002, the only other robot vacuum to have ever hit the market was Electrolux’s Trilobite, which was introduced in 1996. It ultimately did not work well and was discontinued.
iRobot essentially created the robot vacuum market. With Terra, iRobot is entering a market with heavy competitors, including John Deere, Honda, Husqvarna and more. These are companies known for their landscaping products that just happen to have robot lawn mowers. iRobot is a robotics company trying to break into lawn care. We’ll be watching to see how this plays out.
iRobot did not share the price of Terra. Not knowing the specs of Terra, such as price, target yard size, etc makes it difficult to compare to other robot lawn mowers. Husqvarna has a line of six robot lawn mowers that range from $1,500 for a quarter acre cutting capacity to $3,500 for a full acre.
Husqvarna’s robot lawn mowers predate the Roomba. Husqvarna’s first robot lawn mower was introduced in Sweden in 1998. Sales were slow initially, but the company said the concept began to gain traction in 2005, and in January 2017, it claims it had sold 1 million units, the majority of which were in Europe. Husqvarna just started marketing to the U.S. in 2018, which shows just how far behind, unaware or uninterested American consumers have been.