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Robotics Technology

Robotic Lawn Mower Gets Regulatory Approval 75

Dave Knott writes with news that US regulators have given iRobot clearance to make and sell an unmanned lawn mower. The company, known for its robot vacuum cleaner Roomba, has designed a robot lawn mower that would wirelessly connect with stakes in the ground operating as signal beacons, rising above the ground by as much as 61 centimetres. The Federal Communications Commission usually prohibits the operation of "fixed outdoor infrastructure" transmitting low-power radio signal without a licence. iRobot's lawn mower beacons fall in that category, and the stake design required a waiver from the FCC, which was opposed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stating that the lawn mowers would interfere with its telescopes. An anonymous reader writes with another piece of automated plant-related hardware at a slightly different scale: The tractor pulling the grain cart in the video has no one in the cab. It is controlled by an open source autopilot, and it can operate autonomously all day in the field without a driver. I can't take credit for every bit of hardware and software used but I did put it all together.
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Robotic Lawn Mower Gets Regulatory Approval

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  • A terrible movie, but it shows what can happen when someone hacks a lawnmower. Spoiler: killer lawnmower.
  • You can buy robolawnmowers for years in Germany, not sure why it is such a big deal.

    • Same with the US, but all those require you to bury a wire around the perimeter of your yard, which sounds like a pain in the butt. This one uses a (presumably) simpler system involving stakes that transmit wireless signals.

      • by ksheff ( 2406 )
        If one could use the same perimeter wire for a "wireless fence" for pets, that would be great. I imagine some pranksters could have fun moving the iRobot transmitter stakes around when the property owner isn't around.
        • It seems like technology that it would be fun to subvert. Broadcast a signal that makes the lawnmower wander out into the street....

      • by Kartu ( 1490911 )

        The ones I've seen didn't a wire around the perimeter.

        PS
        Also, iRobot is not a good base for a lawn robot, as, unlike robots from competitors (e.g. Samsung, LG) that try to cover entire area by getting everywhere ONCE, Roomba's just randomly run around. That approach won't work well with lawn robot.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Thursday August 13, 2015 @06:15PM (#50312519)

    You have been able to buy robotic lawnmowers for a while now. There are competing brands on Amazon. I'm guessing that it is just iRobot getting approval that is the actual story. Not robotic mowers in general.

    Now get off my lawn (my robot wants to mow it)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This robot uses ultra-wideband navigation (RLS) to determine its position. The beacons you install work like miniature GPS satellites. As such, the robot can know where to mow without you having to bury an electronic fence cable underground. Probably the technology they are using is made by DecaWave, but other options exist.

      This technology is unlicensed, but outdoor installations require a waiver in the US for the manufacturer. In the EU the user needs a personal waiver for outdoor UWL RLS deployments. This

  • Robotic lawnmowers have been around since the 60s [wikipedia.org]

    Also, from 2012 on there has been some popularity.

    I'm guessing iRobot's claimed innovation is you aren't going to have to bury a wire around the perimeter of your yard anymore?

    It doesn't sound like a very interesting improvement to me. If a robotic mower will do it for you, then putting down the wire doesn't seem like much cost.

    The real problem at least around here, is the yards are not even at all.... there are lots of little dirt hills and m

    • If a robotic mower will do it for you, then putting down the wire doesn't seem like much cost.

      Depends on how much property you're talking about.

      If you're talking about your typical suburban backyard, then, no, burying a wire isn't that big a deal. On the other hand, neither is mowing a lawn by hand. So, in that case, this is more of a conversation piece than anything else.

      If you're talking about having a few acres of lawn--which isn't that much out in the country--you're at that point where it becomes a real nuisance. Growing up in rural Vermont, mowing the lawn was usually an all day affair.

      I wa

    • This is the demographic where people would have understood *why* the FCC needed to get involved.

  • The greens to be freaking perfect every day. No excuses anymore, run those electric lawnmowers twice a day...
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Thursday August 13, 2015 @06:17PM (#50312529)

    iRobot's lawn mower beacons fall in that category, and the stake design required a waiver from the FCC, which was opposed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stating that the lawn mowers would interfere with its telescopes.

    These upside-down drones will be cutting grass under the stars while astronomers are hard at work smoking grass?

    • iRobot's lawn mower beacons fall in that category, and the stake design required a waiver from the FCC, which was opposed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, stating that the lawn mowers would interfere with its telescopes.

      These upside-down drones will be cutting grass under the stars while astronomers are hard at work smoking grass?

      Next week, expect a Houston man to shoot up one of those upside down drones for spying on his daughter as she sunbathes.

    • Do radio telescopes limit their observations to nighttime hours? If so you would think that would be a simple waiver requirement that the NRAO could push for, for safety/science reasons the beacons could have a light sensor in them to detect the day/night cycle and deactivate their transmitters within a half hour of sunset.

      • Radio telescopes don't collect visible light unlike optical telescopes. So unless our sun is causing too much interference like it does for optical telescopes, I don't see why they would only operate at night.
  • License? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Thursday August 13, 2015 @06:21PM (#50312545)

    I'm a little baffled as to why any of that is needed?

    I'd just use a wifi network for it. Why do anything else? Here someone will say "what if you wanted to do a long range whatever"... I don't think the "beacons" work that way. I think they're just used to help the mower home in on a charge station. Mix that with an infared light on the front and the mower would have a second thing to home in on. The wifi wouldn't even have to do anything. It could just make a bogus SSID broadcast every second or so.... done.

    There are a lot of automated mowers on the market already. I'm a little confused as to why iRobot bothered with the FCC on this matter. What do they get out of this besides having to deal with lethargic retrograde federal institutions with no vested interest in competence, customer service, or even rationality? Clearly the winning move is to find whatever loophole you can use so you just avoid their mandate.

    • and we're talking about it. Free publicity?

      PS, I fucking hate that /. penalizes me for typing fast. YOU wait 14 seconds asshole.

      • I feel you. I type very quickly as well and I like to respond to about 10 comments I get in a row. But I instead have to respond to them and then occasionally press the "submit" button when that has finally timed out.

        If /. says only X comments per day. I think I'm allowed 50 per 24 hours... which is plenty. That's fine. But don't tell me how quickly I can respond to something. That is what i hate. By all means, restrict me to 50. But I am completely with you that most of the posting restrictions are bullshi

    • I'm a little baffled as to why any of that is needed?

      I'm going to take a stab at explaining this....

      "Fixed outdoor infrastructure" is required by the robot's design. This infrastructure allows the robot to navigate your backyard and emits RF in the process. Under FCC rules, this is not allowed for an unlicensed device.

      • Well, there are already lots of automated mowers on the market that seem to work just fine. I think they use the same system that dog collars use. You bury a wire and the mower detects when it reaches the perimeter of the lawn by detecting the wire.

        As to homing in on the base station to recharge or empty the hopper... a wifi SSID ping is permitted under existing FCC rules so why not just do that. Only have no network behind it. Call it "irobot mower base station 1~infinity" Then you have IR emitters on the

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      the fcc license for something like this is a rubber stamp for wifi.

      but yeah there's already automateds..

  • Has anyone been able to find any pricing on this?

    Or specs like battery life?

    • Has anyone been able to find any pricing on this?

      Or specs like battery life?

      If you have to ask about the price, you cannot afford it... ;) Who cares about the battery life if it's like the vacuums they sell... It runs until the battery gets low, then automatically finds the charger to recharge... Wash rinse and repeat for as long as the grass keeps growing.

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        Well I was hoping it was priced a bit less than a decent zero turn.

        I was also hoping the lawn stakes they are talking about would be fairly inexpensive like cheap enough that I can just buy one mower and then just switch it between lawns every few days.

        I suppose I could just move the stakes each time.

        Then again it might be to much to expect it to be able to do a full lawn every 3 days.

        • Then again it might be to much to expect it to be able to do a full lawn every 3 days.

          Surely it cold do a full lawn in under 24 hours. The typical "full lawn" generally only takes a human a couple hours. I can't imagine it taking longer than 3 days.

          If they take more than a couple hours, the problem I see is that you have a very expensive, very dangerous piece of equipment operating unattended in your yard. To get these to be commonplace, they need some way of making them safe, making them reasonably priced, and preventing theft.

  • Obligatory - Do we know how these will react to peculiar gravitational anomalies ?

  • Sorry, but all of you lazy people out there who dream of a day when you can just tell your autonomous lawn mower, "Mow the front lawn, please" and allow it on it's way, unmanned, will just have to be disappointed. In the end, lawnmowing regulatory agencies will demand there be a full set of manual controls, along with an unimpeachable manual override, and a properly trained, tested, licensed, and insured lawncare equipment operator will be required at those controls at all times. Seriously, it's a safety is
    • Also, in all seriousness: Why even bother having a lawn at all? Grass is one of the most boring things imaginable. It also uses a rediculous amount of water, and a rediculous amount of labor to make it look decent. Alternately there are plenty of other types of ground cover that look as good if not better, use a fraction of the water (some don't even need to be watered at all, really), and little to no upkeep.

      Its a good point. There is a person down the road from me who instead of a lawn, has their entire yard in various flowers and decorative grasses. It's stunning, and even smells great. It's some work I'm certain, but makes a traditional grass monoculture lawn look incredibly boring.

    • I let my lawns die because of the drought, but even though I admittedly rarely walk on it, I'd like the *ability* to walk on it. Is there other ground cover you don't have to water (nor mow, at least more than every month or two, though I was doing it about that infrequently with my lawn), but is still walk-on-able? Doesn't seem so, at least when I've asked the "native plants" people that show up at festivals.

    • I live in Florida, the grass grows whether you want it to or not. Hell, I roto-tillered a 600sq ft garden, completely plowed in all green stuff and pulled the weeds for 3 months while I grew stuff in it. Stop maintenance and the weeds took over within a month. After 1 year of not pulling the weeds, it's hard to tell the garden from the lawn anymore.

      If you've got a big simple area with nothing in it but grass/weeds, an automated lawnmower makes a lot of sense. Regular mowing tends to favor grasses over l

      • The grass is perennial. The weeds are annual. If you mow down the weeds through a few reseeding cycles (never allow the weeds to mature and throw out seed) the weeds are decimated. For the most part. Some weeds are really fast at throwing seeds (i.e. dandelions)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It remembers where the Dandelions are.

  • by yodleboy ( 982200 ) on Thursday August 13, 2015 @07:00PM (#50312743)
    the difference with this mower is it uses wireless stakes to define the cutting area. competing robo-mowers require you to bury wires in the ground. The biggest benefit I can see is ease of making changes... Decide to do some planting, put out some yard decor or otherwise change the layout? Re-position your stakes. No digging up the yard.

    The biggest problems I've seen with the robo-mower idea are related to cost.

    1. Existing robo-mowers (at least as sold by places like Home Depot) are expensive. Like $2000-$3000 USD expensive.

    2. Letting them run while you're away (which would be one of the attractions and selling points) means your very expensive mower is out there unattended for anyone to grab. Never mind the potential liability concerns. My back yard is fenced, but most people in the US don't fence a front yard.

    3. For the price of a robo-mower, you could purchase a very nice riding mower, with assorted attachments. This would dramatically reduce the amount of time spent mowing, and give you additional uses like hauling, leaf cleanup, tilling and so on. Robo-mower, it mows. That's all.

    I suppose if I had a large rural property, where the risk of theft or cutting off the toes of a curious person was minimized, I could see how a robo-mower might be ok. For the typical suburbanite, what we REALLY want is a robo-lawn-care-service that will mow, edge, trim hedges, fertilize, do pest control. Like that other favorite of Popular Mechanics, the flying car, I'm sure it's just around the corner...
  • by NewtonsLaw ( 409638 ) on Thursday August 13, 2015 @07:15PM (#50312815)

    Noooo.... a drone-mower?

    Surely this will have "high powered" cameras onboard that will violate my privacy and how long before one of these mowers jumps a berm, soars into the air and brings down a commercial passenger jet?

    Don't you people read the carefully researched and highly objective news stories on the dangers of drones????

    But please, ignore this guy Chris Manno [wordpress.com], what would he know... he's just an ex-USAF pilot who now flies commercial airliners for American Airlines. He clearly has no credibility when compared to the deluded ravings of some lowly intern in a tabloid newspaper or some government regulator who's hell-bent on restricting any freedoms they may have overlooked last year.

  • There are people who seriously can't see the Bad Idea Fairy sitting on that thing from a long ways away?

    The only reason I "trust" a Roomba is because it's relatively incapable of causing damage or injury. Putting a big, sharp spinning blade on it and essentially creating a BattleBots competitor with no cage is the point at which I start shooting at the goddamn thing.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why is this particular robotic lawnmower super dangerous compared to all other robotic lawnmowers that are already out there?
      I walk past some ten to twenty lawns with robotic lawnmowers on my way to work. They are slow and they stop the cutting if lifted.
      Trust me, robotic lawnmowers are great.
      Like, even worrying about them while people still haven't gotten into their head that storing a loaded gun in the same house as a preteen is a very bad idea seems a bit silly.

      • >Why is this particular robotic lawnmower super dangerous compared to all other robotic lawnmowers that are already out there?

        Because it's made by a company that is primarily a military products supplier? ;-)

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday August 13, 2015 @11:19PM (#50313911) Journal

    If I didn't go out and push the lawnmower around on Saturdays, I'd never get a chance to see my milf-y neighbor sunbathing.

    I don't even have to use my hands to push the mower.

  • until this thing accidentally targets a wedding party.
  • Why does the NRAO care? There are already protected by the National Radio Quiet Zone. Is this going to interfere with their operations form outside the zone? And worse than all the other electronics running outside the zone?

    Surely these aren't going to be allowed within it, are they? If they are to be allowed there then maybe that's the problem the NRAO should be interested in, not the more general fact that this technology is made available to the rest of us.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford

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