iRobot Is Working On A Robotic Mower That’s Angering Astronomers

According to a number of FCC filings, robotic vacuum maker iRobot is working on an automatic lawnmower – and they’re irking radio astronomers. The project, which is still under wraps, uses low power radio beacons to delineate the corners of your yard, ensuring your robotic mower doesn’t scoot into the back forty. Unlike other automatic systems – which use wires or barriers to keep the robots corralled – the beacons emit in the 6240-6740 MHz range.

This, according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), is used to spot methanol – “interstellar wood alcohol” – in space, the presence of which means a star is being born. The FCC even states that “all practicable steps shall be taken to protect the radio astronomy service from harmful interference.”

The best part? The NRAO and its astronomers are talking back to iRobot in the FCC comments. For example:

iRobot: “Use of the iRobotRLM [robot lawn mower] will increase lawn mower safety. An estimated 1,517 lethal accidents occurred with lawn mowers through the years 1997 to 2010. It is reasonable to assume that many of these injuries and deaths would not occur if consumers used a robotic mower. More than 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. Abattery poweredRLM will reduce emissions, gasoline spills, fires and other such accidents.”NRAO: “iRobot cited multiple statistics of grim accidents and spilt gasoline to assert the public benefit of approving its wireless robotic lawn mowers. However, there is already a competitive market for robotic lawn mowers using wire loops [buried edge wire], which has somehow failed to stanch the stream of ghastly accidents and spilt gasoline that iRobot associates with the mundane practice of lawn-mowing.”

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Given that Colin Angle, founder of iRobot, has a MS in Computer Science and a deep background in artificial intelligence and robotics, it’s clear that this is a battle of the megaminds. It will be interesting to see both the new product – purported to be called the iRobot RLM – and how Angle and his team prevent the masking of interstellar wood alcohol spectrography. You can check out the entire document here.

via Spectrum