Astronomers are furious about a new Roomba-like robotic lawnmower

iRobotWho doesn’t love the Roomba?

A little more than a decade ago, the world met the Roomba: a little automated vacuum cleaner that picks up lint, dust, dirt, and cats.

Now iRobot, the company behind the Roomba, is expanding its arsenal of helpful household robots with a new lawnmower — but astronomers are not happy about it, according to Matt Gibbons at Quartz.

iRobot’s chief creator Colin Angle told Forbes in 2006 that the company’s next big dream was a robot lawnmower. Nine years later, the project was still on hold by the FCC, even though similar models already existed in Europe, according to Reuters.

The reason for the delay: There’s only so much frequency range available to new wireless products, and the FCC has rules to avoid “harmful interference to authorised users of the radio spectrum.” Specific to the lawn bot, the rule says fixed outdoor infrastructure — antennas mounted anywhere outside — can’t operate within a certain frequency range.

iRobot wants to use stakes with transmitters driven into the ground to mark off a zone for the bot to mow. The stakes’ frequency range is 6240-6740 MHz, placing it somewhere between Wi-Fi and 5G (the next generation of mobile data). But the stakes fell directly into the FCC’s restricted category.

Last week, however, the FCC finally waived the rule for iRobot’s future lawn bot.

Cat roombaEirik NewthNot everyone is thrilled about the Roomba.

This is great news for lazy lawn owners everywhere, but the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) freaked out.

NRAO opposed iRobot’s lawn mower because it could crowd out radio waves from space that sensitive telescopes can detect. In a statement to Quartz, an NRAO spokesperson said the objection was a part of a “larger ongoing struggle to preserve access to the radio for basic science.”

In a semi-compromise, NRAO tried to argue for “exclusion zones” where the iRobot lawn mower could not be used. But the FCC said in its report that the NRAO’s concerns were “greatly overestimated.”

“[The] calculations show that there is an exceedingly low practical risk that the iRobot RLM system would cause harmful interference,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, iRobot claims its latest invention “has the potential for reducing deaths and injuries, reducing emissions and noise pollution, and improving quality of life related to residential lawn mowing.”

As long as its proposed height, signal strength, and promise to only be used in residential areas remains the same, the iRobot lawn mower is a go.

Outdoor roomba Megan's renditionShutterstock and iRobotMy rendition of what the new iRobot lawn bot could look like.

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