Sunday, July 06, 2008

BREAKING: iRobot Robotic Lawnmower Patent Published w/Pictures!

Hot news, folks! iRobot, the company that brought you the Roomba, Scooba, Dirt Dog, PackBot, Looj (Gutter robot), Create and more, has designed a lawn mowing robot that bears striking similarities to the Roomba, according to a new patent filing discovered by Robot Stock News! The long-rumored "Mowba" is no longer a rumor!

According to the extremely detailed 84-page filing, various configurations are being considered by iRobot, including an all-electric model and a gasoline-electric hybrid, as well as various shapes ranging from the familiar Roomba-like disc to a pentagon shape to a four-wheeled model to a "tombstone" shape. (More pics are below!)
Various possible cutting systems are shown, including rotating cutters and a reciprocating saw-like cutting system. The filing also shows a variety of acoustic and optical sensors that allow the robot to automatically avoid hard surfaces, water and other barriers and sense uncut grass so it can properly align the cutters.
Several possible barrier methods are also shown: one is a perimeter wire method that seems very similar to existing methods such as the Robomower by Israeli firm Friendly Robotics (pictured). Another includes planting special solar-powered spikes along a property boundary. Various markers can also be placed telling the robot to avoid certain areas or follow a path to remote stretches of lawn.

(I'll note that the first robotic lawnmower that does not need a perimeter wire was released earlier this year, the pictured LawnBott LB1200.)

Pretty brilliant, although you'll have to be comfortable with stakes sticking up from the green grass!
Other possibilities cited by iRobot include GPS navigation or using a radio beacon to ensure the robotic lawnmower doesn't stray too far and returns to its home base.

The Mowba lawnmower -- (iRobot will surely have a better name?) -- would be able to avoid most obstacles on its own, such as driveways, trees, pools, ponds, curbs, etc.

There also appears to be an option for a robot-activated recharging station. (Something also available on the Robomower.)

Among other cool features:
* A possible edge trimmer along the outside edge of the chassis.
* The possibility of collecting clippings and depositing them at a specified location;
* The possibility of using RFID tags or proximity sensors to avoid running into pets or people;
* The possibility of learning your lawn in the first cutting and remembering it for future cuttings;
* The inclusion of grass-combing technology to ensure that the grass is fluffed and properly oriented for cutting.

What we don't know is why iRobot hasn't yet brought this robotic lawnmower to market, despite clamoring from this blog, investors and others for years. Perhaps the company hasn't settled on the best design yet, or hasn't figured out how to keep the cost below $1,000, or wants to take its time to ensure excellent reliability, or has plenty of other stuff on its plate. After all, they only recently introduced the fifth-generation Roomba 500 Series and the third-generation Scooba 300 Series. Regardless, here is hoping that iRobot will launch its own Robotic Lawnmower in 2009!

More pictures from the patent (Click on picture to enlarge):
Mower with three circular cutters:

The Pentagon mower:

A side view of a two-stage mower:

A top view of a two-stage mower:

The Tombstone Mower:

More Views of the Two-Stage Mower:

Picture of the grass sensor operation:

More grass sensor operation:

Layout of a typical yard:

Yard equipped with boundary markers:

Boundary enhanced with GPS anchor/robot-activated power source:

Yard with Perimeter Wire and entry and exit markers:

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Updated: The complete iRobot patent application can be found at this link at freepatentsonline.

UPDATE 2: iRobot refused to comment about its robotic lawnmower plans in a statement released to Lance Ulanoff at PC Magazine/Gearlog:
We rang up iRobot and got this official comment on this new automation: "iRobot does not comment on products that have not been publicly announced. We do explore many areas where robots can make a difference in people's lives, and while doing so we are careful to protect our intellectual property."

Note: Forbes Magazine first tipped us off to a coming iRobot lawnmower in 2006.

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LawnBott said...

Great find! Any news on a release date and price? I love trimmer idea the most, but I'm not so sure about the thin probes hanging down to detect grass. They look fragile to me. So far I'm extremely impressed.

thorn_stevens said...

I doubt we'll see anything for a while. iRobot may be worried about patent infringement themselves and want to see how their claims are treated by the patent office before charging ahead. But I can't imagine they would introduce anything before 2009. They are clearly throwing everything but the kitchen sink into this patent request and hoping that something sticks.

thorn_stevens said...

And as for the trimmer, I'd be a little worried that that could create liability issues...

Lawnbott said...

I would assume the trimmer will work similar to Roomba's side brush. Perhaps they will use their "wall detection" sensors to determine when to activate it. The question is how can it determine the difference between wall and flesh which is definitely a liability hazard.

Weren't these patents filed sometime ago?

Bryan said...

I've been hoping iRobot would enter this field. I bought a Looj for my dad last year and would *love* to buy a "Mowba" in the next couple years.