Friday, August 18, 2006

Forbes says iRobot is developing a robotic lawnmower!

This month's Forbes magazine features a cover story on robots, featuring, you guessed it, iRobot Corp. (NASDAQ:IRBT)! Particularly intriguing -- Forbes says flat out that iRobot is developing a robotic lawn mower! (I speculated about an iRobot Robomower earlier) The key clip:
Next comes a robot lawn mower and bigger military bots that can go faster and farther. But Angle avoids taking on industrial work-- too boring. To quote one iRobot motto: "We don't do Buicks."
There are not quotes however from the company, which has mentioned lawn mowers frequently as a possible future product but has declined to confirm that they are actively developing one. It's also interesting -- and possibly a bit disheartening, to hear iRobot CEO Colin Angle dissing doing commercial robots. There is money in thum thar hills, folks!
Forbes special coverage of robots that will change our lives is very good news for iRobot and the robotics industry in general. People who read Forbes have cash to burn, and hopefully a few will invest in one of the few public companies tied directly to robotics, IRBT.
The Forbes story on iRobot is called "Fight Wars, Lint" (Cute)
The full coverage is here in "The Robots Are Coming."
Included are stories on Lego Mindstorms NXT, Pleo, Stickybot, Stanley the Robot SUV, and Honda's ASIMO. This is required reading.
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William Cox said...

So, how do you think they'll do it (the robot lawnmower, that is)? Will they go with the standard wire along the perimeter of the yard or something more grand (and hopefully simple)?

thorn_stevens said...

I don't figure standard wire -- too complicated for the typical suburban housemom/dad. I've been wracking my brain for an alternative but haven't come up with one. Hopefully the iRobot folks will. Perhaps you could put beacons bordering your yard as sentries (infrared or RF?) or a single beacon in the center of the yard with settings for how far the mower could go from the beacon.

If they do go "standard," I'd expect that they know they must come in with a reasonable price or prices. $499 for the basic mower is a magic price point. Add $200 for a dock and doodads, and $100 a year for blades and battery upgrades. Sell 100,000 of them and you've got a $60 million+ a year business.

If they do come out with a Robomower, the marketing may be more important than anything, and that's where I expect that the John Deere partnership could be helpful.

You could even call it "The John Deere Mowba, by iRobot"

Slap John Deere and iRobot badges on it, and you can sell it in Seattle and Peoria.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that wire is the way to go. Too much work - one of the main reasons I haven't bought a Robomower. The Roomba works out of the box with no setup - a mower would have to do the same with little or no setup for me to buy it.

I figure *some* sort of mapping would be required. Maybe a "teaching" session where you walk the robot around the edges of the yard the first time? If it remembered the edges and had a bumper for any trees or whatever, that would work.

Even just using stakes with beacons on them would be easier than perimeter wire!

If your yard is fenced or contained, you could do like the Roomba does and just let it bump into stuff. Most people probably couldn't do that, though. Wire or beacons or whatever may mistakenly let the mower through and there goes your investment down the street! Even with some sort of mapping, you'd probably want some sort of "Lassie come home" device that tells it it's too far or out of bounds or something.

thorn_stevens said...

I like Lassie Come Home. If you aren't going to go with a wire, you are going to need some kind of alternative that keeps your bot from straying down the block. Rudimentary GPS tracking would be sweet.

Tym said...

If they are going for the inexpensive homeowner edition, they'll forswear blades in favor of the weedwacker approach.

Anonymous said...

I will be very surprised if they do away with a wire (if they build a mower at all). Any sensor that depends on a line of sight beacon to define the perimeter is asking for trouble.

What if something blocks the beacon? What if the beacon signal is reflected? Answer: A stopped or run away mower.

Installing the wire only takes a few hours and a monkey could do it.

thorn_stevens said...

Good point, although I think you may be overestimating Americans' willingness to do any manual labor, particularly for a robot...

castvee8 said...

This looks a tad better:

I mean if you are going to go to all that trouble to build a mower, why not the operater too?