iRobot's radio-guided lawnmowers could interfere with Radio Telescopes

iRobot's radio-guided lawnmowers could interfere with Radio Telescopes

Scientists at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory have objected the proposal set by iRobot Corp. for selling lawnmowers guided by radio waves. According to the scientists, machines might interfere with the ultra-sensitive radio telescopes they are using to study the universe.

iRobot is known for its self-guided Roomba vacuum cleaners and bomb-disposal equipment. The company filed a request with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use airwaves for robot lawn mowers to be guided wirelessly.

The company filed for permission to market its lawnmower robot as it needs fixed wireless infrastructure to map its route around a lawn. Other robotic lawnmowers typically use hard-wired fences to keep the bots in place.

However, the FCC has prohibited products from requiring that infrastructure. Officials from the observatory which is funded by National Science Foundation have objected to iRobot’s early plans.

According to them, a radio-frequency fence meant to keep the product from wandering away would interfere with their sensitive equipment (radio telescopes).

The observatory runs the Green Bank Telescope, which is set in a mountain bowl in West Virginia. Mobile phones are already banned there as well as in facilities in Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands.

The facilities have been set up to map the structure of the Milky Way by capturing faint signals from light years away.

The observatory is finding a problem with iRobot as the company wants to use frequencies that let scientists track methanol, a substance abundant in some celestial regions. The pretense of this substance offers a 'galactic beacon' pointing to star formation.

However, iRobot said that the astronomers’ concerns are overblown. The company has volunteered to take steps to ensure that lawn care won’t interfere with space exploration.

Glen Weinstein, chief legal officer of iRobot, said that chances of astronomical readings on telescopes to be fouled by signals from two-foot-tall guide stakes in lawns in far-flung suburbs are infinitesimal.