Why Astronomers Hate Roomba's Lawnmower Plans

'It's telescopes vs. robots'
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2015 6:31 AM CDT
Why Astronomers Hate Roomba's Plans for a New Lawnmower
A grasshopper hangs out on a blade of grass in South Dakota.   (AP Photo/Carson Walker)

The next big thing in lawn-mowing technology could come from the makers of the Roomba—but first, they're facing a fight with astronomers. That's because iRobot's proposed device would use radio signals to keep the mowers from going rogue and moving off a user's property. Robot lawnmowers already exist, but they generally require users to install ground wire to restrict their movements, IEEE Spectrum reports. Radio signals could make things easier; the trouble is that those radio signals would be on the same frequency band as the one used by many telescopes, Wired reports. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is taking up the matter with the FCC.

The observatory’s telescopes "do a kind of celestial cartography that measures distances to star-forming regions with high precision, charting the course of galactic evolution," the group says. It fears that Roomba's mowers would wreak havoc on its research. "What’s to stop the guy who spends thousands of dollars on this product from using it in residential areas near our telescopes?" says a rep. From iRobot's official response, via NPR: "As a realistic matter, iRobot's proposed operations will have an infinitesimal likelihood of impacting any radio astronomy measurements in the band." The FCC will pick the winner in the debate; in the meantime, as the astronomers' rep says: "It's telescopes against robots." (Either way, perhaps robot lawnmowers could cut down on drunken mower driving.)

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