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Where's my robot mower? Roomba-maker now has an answer

Robotic vacuum cleaners are now long enough to watch a hammer around the living room and think, why is there no robot that could mow my lawn? It turns out that no lack of attempts.

More than a decade iRobot, the company behind Roomba Vacuumbot, works and works on robotic mowers. Now, finally, there is something to show the effort, though it came in price.

"Frankly, this robot was driving me crazy," said CEO Colon Angle, after showing Terru, the long-awaited first lawnmower. "It was an obsession."

The flat square autonomous lawn, which Angle's company revealed on Wednesday, is the result of a long-standing engineer struggle involving dead ends and conflicts with radio astronomers.

Angle and his colleagues asked, "So when will you mow my lawn?" since the company started selling Roombas in 2002. But teaching robots to navigate a typical US yard without destroying flower buds was more difficult than it seemed. "There was a lot of despair and frustration on the trip," Angle said.

Engineers were throwing away any technology and mechanical design they could have on a secret project, hiding behind the high, opaque fences that stood on the highway in front of the iRobot headquarters in Massachusetts. A test lawn included a picnic table and other obstacles.

The first problem was to help the robot determine the location so as not to lose and miss the place. Satellite GPS technology failed; Angle said, that it was too "scary," because obstructing tree branches or nearby houses could be useless.

Ineffective was also the sophisticated computer vision launched by the latest Roombas. The technology did not work out well because the lenses of the camera can be blocked by leaves or dirt, and machine learning algorithms are confusing when the mower bounces up and down. Laser distance meters and terrestrial lighthouses represented different challenges.

The company has made so many attempts to see several early prototypes of lawnbots in the movie "21." They appear in the scene where Angle plays a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announcing the winners of the robotics competition. The current Terra does not look like prototypes.

"We have given up," Angle said about the project. "Probably we gave up twice."

Ultimately, the financial pressure on the robot maker to diversify his product line was boosted. (After separating his robotic defense department in 2016, iRobot is almost exclusively a vacuum vendor. The main exception is Robot Braava, which is part of the total revenue.)

Robotic mowers have also begun to breed in Europe, where they are now an industry of about $ 300 million. These robo mowers, however, require the owners of houses to set boundary wire perimeter to keep the machines in a restricted area.

Angle said he was doing well in Germany, where the yards are usually small, straight and straight, but not in the curving United States lawns. The American lawnmower also sets a higher level for what the cut should look like: Straight, back and back are valued, he said.

The company finally found its answer to radio technology based on the "ultra wide" bandwidth that will run lawnmowers with the help of lighthouses located around the lawns, combined with the memory of the map making iRobot already uses for its vacuum cleaners. But that idea struck astronomers who said radio signals could interfere with their exploration of interstellar chemistry.

IRobot finally got permission from the Federal Communications Commission to use ultra wide bandwidth for a wireless robotic lawnmower – albeit not Harvey Liszta, spectator head of the National Radio Astronomical Observatory, arguing that the FCC claims that "there is already a competitive market for robotic lawnmowers using wire loops that have in some way failed to stop the current of terrible accidents and the prospect of gasoline that iRobot links with everyday grass mowing practice. "

The silent, electric mower has a couple of triangular crushers designed for easy lawn work – instead of a typical cutting once a week with a thrust mower, it can maneuver around the lawn a day or several times. times a week – and returns to the cell when it is finished. Users can schedule a device using a phone application; if she slams on the juice as she moves, she will return to the recharge time and then resume where she was. With radio technology, there are a number of other sensors to avoid cans and other unexpected remnants.

The robot will first launch in Germany, where iRobot hopes to use the existing market where Husqvarna, Bosch and other companies are already popular. Lawnmowers will be sold in the US in 2020, after which only beta will be launched later this year.

Forrester's Consumer Technology analyst Frank Gillett said that iRobot has solved some of the technical difficulties in autonomous mowing according to US lawnmower standards, but it is still skeptical that there is enough demand among US homeowners, many of whom are proud of your work on pushing or willing to pay someone else to do it.

"The bigger the problem is still cost," said Gillett. The company has not yet announced Terra's probably the price, but the existing high-end robotic lawnmowers can work well over $ 1,000.

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