Roomba robots are universally loved for automatically cleaning millions of homes every day. It’s such an inspired solution that it is unfathomable how anyone could hate on it. But, apparently a bunch of astronomers are deeply upset that Roomba-making company iRobot (IRBT) is stepping up its game and creating a robotic lawnmower.
As strange as this beef between a company that makes home appliances and a group that studies celestial objects sounds, it does have some logic behind it. It all started when iRobot filed a waiver request with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to use a small part of the radio spectrum.
With Roomba there is not much chance of it wandering outside the owner’s property due to walls and doors keeping it cooped up. But since a lawnmower built on the same principles would be working out there in the open, there is a genuine possibility of it straying away. To keep it in check, iRobot has come up with the idea of installing a series of stakes around the lawn. These beacons, in theory, would interact with the proposed robomower and guide it across the lawn.
It would basically be a network of outdoor transmitters, something which always requires the FCC’s approval. The FCC has its own concerns about how it might interfere with cellular and GPS systems, but it seems astronomers have an even greater issue with it. They are strictly opposing the idea because iRobot is asking to use the 6240-6740 MHz frequency for the lawnbot. This, unfortunately, is the same frequency that their radio telescopes use to detect methanol in the atmosphere.
Even though iRobot says that its transmitters won’t be a hindrance to any astronomical studies and that it is open to educating its prospective customers in this regard, the stargazers are having none of it.
Of course, there is an alternative solution too, where lawnmowers could be controlled via electronic fencing, but it would require the digging of a trench all around the lawn’s perimeter. In short, it could prove to be too much of a hassle and may prove to be a stumbling block in lawnbot’s ability to catch on like the original Roomba did.
Let’s hope a compromise is reached somewhere so that the astronomers can keep on discovering cool things in space, and we can have our lawns trimmed without moving a muscle.
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