IRobot’s new robotic lawn mower: It’s like watching grass grow

How's your brand spanking new iRobot robotic lawn mower working out for you? Do you like it or not? Have you showed it off to all your friends yet? What? You don't have one?

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Funnily enough, neither do we. Neither does anyone else we know.

In fact, No-One has it yet.​

So Are They Creating a Roomba for the Lawn Then - Or Not?

We think that iRobot Corporation are building a robotic lawnmower. However, it seems that the iRobot lawnmower will operate slightly differently to many other existing lawnmowers.

With many robotic lawnmowers at the moment, you need to bury a long loop of wire around the edges of your garden. This enables the mower to figure out where your lawn is and where not to cross further.

From filings made to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States, It seems that the iRobot lawnmower will operate using a wireless system that sends messages back and forth to boundary stakes pushed into the ground.

As the mower moves around your garden, plans show that it will be able to figure out exactly where it is and will mow your lawn as automatically as an existing iRobot Roomba device cleans the carpets in your home.

What's The Big Deal About A Robotic Lawnmower Anyway?

Well, of course, the obvious thing is that it will mow your lawn for you. That means you can enjoy your time in the garden without having to go to the effort of cutting all the grass first.

Lack of spare time has become a greater and greater issue for more and more people. There is an increasing trend towards devices that will save time and effort and allow people to enjoy their leisure without spending it on mundane chores.

Keeping a garden lawn neat and tidy throughout the summer months is a painful necessity for many. You can spend much time getting the grass looking fabulous, only to find a few days later that it is looking overgrown again.

With a good robotic mower, you don't need to be concerned any more about your lawn being out of control while you are away on holiday or if you are just too busy.

There are also less obvious advantages such as being able to cut the grass in the rain thanks to onboard sensors that detect humidity levels. And also being able to schedule the mowing automatically so you can almost set-and-forget your lawn maintenance completely.

Is This New Mower Going To Be Called Roomba As Well?

Roomba is the model name given to iRobot's Popular range of robotic vacuum robots. We don't believe they will use the same name for a lawnmower. It would be too confusing.

According to patent filings made earlier this year, it looks like the new iRobot lawnmower may be called "Terra".

In its application, the company described the Terra patent filing as being used for "robotic lawnmowers; structural and replacement parts and fittings for robotic lawnmowers."

It seems a pretty reasonable guess to us that that's a description of the new iRobot lawnmower.

It All Sounds Great. So What's Taking So Long?

From what we can figure out, it seems that one of the major obstacles to releasing a lawnmower with a wireless system has been that outdoor radio signals can cause interference with other devices.

The FCC typically prohibits the use of wireless technology based on "fixed outdoor infrastructure" and this is the category into which this wireless robotic lawn mowing system would fall.

The iRobot Corporation has already bumped up against objections from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) which claimed that the wireless system would interfere with their radio astronomy observations. Their concern is presumably that someone could use one of the iRobot lawnmowers near a radio telescope and mess up the way it works.

The planned iRobot mower beacons will broadcast signals in the 6,240-6,740 megahertz range, which happens to be the same range the National Radio Astronomy Observatory uses to view spectral signatures of methanol in space.

But last year, after a battle between the astronomers and the robotics company, the US regulators gave cautious approval to iRobot's system.

The FCC said: "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."

So Why Don't They Get On With It?

We're not sure.

Even before iRobot's mower gets a foothold, competitors will have already further refined their products and manufacturing processes based on customer feedback, and will be well aware of what sells and what doesn't.

In a way, iRobot has been too late to this market already. Being late to the market with an outdated product in our hyper-fast-moving modern world is like committing corporate suicide.

It could be that they are looking for a technological leap which will enable them to get ahead of their existing competitors.

While the wireless system is more advanced than other robotic lawnmower systems, there is already work underway by academics in being able to remove lawn boundary systems altogether. It may well be that iRobot Corporation is looking to include some of these advancements in their own technology.

So It May Not Be Worth Them Creating A Lawnmower At All Now?

No, we don't think that's the case. The potential market for robotic lawnmowers is huge.

iRobot's own research suggests that robotic lawnmowers are already becoming more and more common in Europe, where the market was $200 million in 2014.

Once a solution has been found to the garden boundary problem, we expect the market to mushroom to many billions of dollars a year. Whoever can ride the wave of this enthusiasm, with the right technology, will make a killing.

Carpet-cleaning robots are already becoming more and more commonplace in many homes. This shows public acceptance of devices that almost think for themselves.

It is only a matter of time now until this willingness to embrace robotic technology overflows into many other parts of people's lives.

Robotic lawnmowers are just the next step in a more widespread trend towards time-saving robotic machines.

One thing is for sure; iRobot is being very cagey about providing much information about what they are working on.

We'll keep you posted.


Photo by Tomas Quinones

  • Updated September 15, 2016
  • General