Remember that town in West Virginia where no cell phones or Wi-Fi signals or even radios are allowed? Robotic lawn mowers are right out:
The saga started in February, when iRobot filed a waiver request with the FCC seeking approval to use a portion of the radio spectrum to help guide its robomower. The problem with grass-cutting bots, according to iRobot’s filing, is the only way to get them to work is to dig a trench along the perimeter of a lawn and install a wire that creates the electronic fence needed to ensure the automatons don’t wander beyond the property line.
The iRobot people also produce the Roomba, a robotic vacuum cleaner, and the Scooba, which maintains hardwood floors. (I covet the Scooba.)
As a less arduous solution, iRobot proposes using stakes, driven into the ground, to act as beacons. The beacons will talk to the lawnbot, helping it map the area and stay within the designated boundaries. A typical user with a typical lawn (a quarter to a third of an acre) might need between four and nine beacons.
But the system requires special permission from the FCC due to its restrictions on fixed outdoor infrastructure. In a nutshell, the FCC doesn’t want people creating ad hoc networks of transmitters, which could interfere with existing authorized services like cellular and GPS systems. In its filings, iRobot says it should be exempt because it doesn’t set out to establish a broad communications network — its lawnbot networks would be tightly contained.
The problem, though, isn’t the network, but the frequency on which it operates so wirelessly:
Astronomers say that’s not good enough. The frequency band proposed for the lawnbot (6240-6740 MHz) is the very same one several enormous radio telescopes operate on.
And they don’t want that sort of interference, in West Virginia or anywhere else they may happen to operate.
(Via Hit Coffee.)