For astronomers, the bad blood shared between them and the advanced technology company iRobot Corporation is really nothing personal, just business. iRobot, the creators of Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner that guarantees to keep the floors in any home spotless, have now taken their robotic household cleaners and moved them right on out the front door, more specifically, to the lawn. The latest creation that has been developed by iRobot is the self-sufficient robotic lawn mower. In order for this lawn mowing dream to come to life, it needs to be able to communicate, which led to iRobot asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to use the radio spectrum in small localized portions. As it turns out, iRobot just might be asking for too much from the FCC. This request has caused some issues for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is why astronomers have showed any interest in iRobot at all.
The way the Roomba is able to successfully navigate through the house is by sensors that indicate to the robot the presence of solid objects, such as furniture, walls and people. When it comes to lawns, for the most part, there is usually no type of solid object for the robot to sense to keep it strictly on the grass and off the garden, the sidewalk or from cruising directly into the middle of the street. To resolve this impeding issue, there have been a couple of options that were brought to the table.
The first option would be to dig somewhat of a trench around the entire perimeter of the lawn so that an electric fence could be installed, ensuring that the robot remains exactly where it needs to be without drifting off the property. The reason iRobot is not too keen on following through with that option is because they do not want to have to force the consumers to have to do a lot of yard labor just to be able to actually use the lawn mower.
Instead, iRobot is in favor of option number two, which is to use radio-transmitting beacons that are staked on every corner of the yard, communicating the boundaries of the area to the robot. The advanced technology company claims that the scope and scale of these beacons would be limited and that the grids being used for communication purposes would be so miniscule that established radio frequencies, for example, cellular and GPS systems, would not be interfered with. With that claim, iRobot is asking if their product may be exempt from much of the FCC regulations that apply to the use of radio frequencies.
The NRAO is not buying that claim. They say the frequency range that is reserved specifically for their telescopes would be used by iRobot lawn mowers. NRAO officials reported that the only reason this frequency band is being singled out is to make certain their telescopes are making completely interference-free observations. When the frequency band is interfered, that hinders the observatory’s telescopes abilities to perform celestial cartography successfully.
Lawnbot makers insist on the fact that their product, which will be restricted for residential use only, will need just a 12-mile buffer between the lawnbot system and any radio telescope to guarantee absolutely zero interference. The NRAO says that claim is false, because what will be needed to guarantee absolute zero interference would be a 55-mile buffer between any radio telescope and any lawnbot system. The NRAO is not out to get iRobot or put a stop to their lawnbot release, but they do want the public to respect the location of their telescopes and the frequency band they work on, because as far as they are concerned, iRobot might be asking too much from the FCC.
By Kameron Hadley
Photo By Martin Cathrae-Flickr License