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Battle Brewing Between iRobot and Astronomers

iRobot's line of vacuums have been quite successful. Now the company hopes to add a lawn mower to their product line.  (Photo credit: iRobot.)
iRobot’s line of vacuums have been quite successful. Now the company hopes to add a lawn mower to their product line. (Photo credit: iRobot.)

iRobot hopes to sell robotic lawn mowers that use beacons to determine the perimeter of the lawn. The only problem is that the beacons transmit signals in the same frequency range that the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) uses to collect data about galactic evolution, by tracking methanol in space. It’s important enough that FCC regulations state that “all practicable steps shall be taken to protect the radio astronomy service from harmful interference.”
iRobot is asking the US Federal Communications Commission to let them go ahead with the mower, regardless. Both sides have now filed statements. The NRAO suggests that the robots shouldn’t be allowed to operate just anywhere, as their work requires that nothing with a 89 km radius operates in they’re protected bandwith range of 6650-6675.2 MHz. iRobot says that figure is inflated. The robot maker believes the NRAO only needs 19.3 km to be interference-free around each observation point, and that it’s mostly just desert out there anyway.
Note that it’s not like the NRAO can switch to another bandwith and still get their work done. According to comments filed with the FCC, “The purpose of singling out this frequency band is to allow interference-free observation of the 6.66852 GHz spectral line of methanol (CH3OH) that is abundant in star-forming regions and serves as a galactic beacon of star-forming activity owing to its maser-like qualities.”
The NRAO suggested iRobot use a location tracking to make the beacons inoperable in certain areas, but you can imagine how thrilled a customer would be if they bought a lawn mowing system, set it all up, and then found out they couldn’t use it.

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