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Vacuum Cleaners

Robot lawn mowers might be on iRobot's horizon

A recent FCC ruling suggests that robot lawn mowers are in iRobot's future.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

On August 12, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waived Section 15.250(c) of its rules for Roomba-maker iRobot, thereby granting the brand permission to expand its retail offerings to robot lawn mowers.

Section 15.250(c) specifically stipulates that, "(e)xcept for operation onboard a ship or terrestrial transportation vehicle, the use of a fixed outdoor infrastructure is prohibited." The FCC refers to fixed infrastructures as "antennas mounted on outdoor structures, e.g., antennas mounted on the outside of a building or on a telephone pole."

While iRobot hasn't officially announced plans to develop robot lawn mowers, the FCC waiver goes on to outline specific operating procedures for iRobot's hypothetical bot, including that it will operate in the 6,240-6,740 MHz frequency range, that it will rely on transmitter-equipped stakes or beacons, designed to talk with the robot lawn mower and guide its outdoor navigation (that's where the fixed infrastructure bit comes in) and that the lawn mower and the stakes will only be able to communicate with one another (leaving the potential for additional product integrations out of the equation).

iRobot currently sells outdoor gutter- and pool-cleaning gadgets (as well as commercial-grade outdoor military, security and HazMat robots), but most folks know the brand for its assortment of indoor Roomba vacuum cleaners , floor scrubbers and mops .

This recent ruling might just change all that, although iRobot wasn't ready to confirm the news in the statement it offered to CNET:

"iRobot is pleased with the FCC's decision to grant our request for a waiver of Section 15.250(c) to use low power wideband technologies in the outdoor environment. The FCC's assessment agrees with our analysis that the technology will not have a negative impact on radio astronomy.

"iRobot is constantly working to develop new practical robotic solutions that are designed to improve people's lives, both inside and outside of the home. The FCC's decision will allow iRobot to continue exploring the viability of wideband, alongside other technologies, as part of a long-term product exploration effort in the lawn mowing category.

"It is iRobot's policy not to discuss further specifics at this time."

Automated lawn mowing isn't ubiquitous (yet), but some brands are already selling the tech. At $2,799, Kyodo America's LawnBott LB85EL robot lawn mower isn't cheap, but it comes with a related Android and iOS app for remote access, it is designed to run for up to 3 hours and it relies on an accompanying "guide wire" for operation, which sounds very similar to the stakes mentioned in iRobot's FCC waiver.

We'll see if a theoretical Yard Roomba costs nearly as much as the LawnBott if and when iRobot ever formally announces its own automated mower. Until then, we'll keep our ears to the ground.