iRobot announces the new Terra Robotic lawnmower

When domestic robotic vacuum cleaners first hit the market, they were considered a cute, if somewhat impractical, concept. The Jetsons had finally arrived in town but with a few Flintstone drawbacks.

That was waaaay back in 2002. iRoomba has gone through many iterations since and is now a powerful, very smart, household helper. Like all tech, they are now faster, more powerful and last longer than their predecessors. And of course, they’re cheaper!

iRoomba evolution – from novelty in 2002 to serious household help today

Tertill – the (weed) killer robot

We introduced you to Terhtill, back in July, 2017. Tertill is a robotic week killer. More than 10 years in the making, Terra does for your vege patch what Roomba has done for your floors. Tertill is now shipping and will be in your local stores shortly.

And now… iRobot’s Terra is ready to cut your grass

The idea isn’t new. It’s been on many people’s ‘wish-list’ since iRoomba was first announced. There are already robotic mowers available commercially but they all have a common drawback – you need to bury a loop of wire called an edge wire around the perimeter of your lawn to keep the robot contained. The robot senses the wire under the ground and won’t cross it. If you have a small lawn, that may not be too hard but for larger lawns with centre flowerbeds, it’s an absolute pain.

Here’s where Terra’s ancestry makes all the difference. It’s literally wireless. It uses easily placed beacons instead and it quickly learns the shape of your yard. Like a good dog, it keeps out of the flowerbeds.

Beacons help Terra to localize. No wires anywhere!

Terra can even navigate between sections of your yard. For example, after doing the nature strip, it will come back up the path and do your front lawn. Show it the path to your rear lawn once and it’s locked in. Unfortunately, it can’t open gates yet, but given that it can communicate with Google and Alexa, that won’t hold it back for long.

Where’s the catcher?

Terra is a mulching mower. It works by cutting grass into very small pieces that are left to fertilize your lawn. For this reason, Terra will need to be used more frequently that you probably mow now. The longer the grass, the harder it is to mulch and the more power required.

The other challenge with mulching is that you risk returning weed seeds to the soil for next season. Mowing before the seed heads mature is the simple solution and that is Terra’s forte.

There's no catcher because Terra is made to mulch.
There’s no catcher because robot Terra is made to mulch.

In an interview IEEE Spectrum, Colin Angle from iRobot, commented:

The goal was, first off, to do a great job cutting, and to mow the lawn in a way that people would find easy to set up, and would work in the complicated lawns that many homeowners have. So, no boundary wire was a critical design element.

The fundamental navigation system was a technology that we had to develop, and it was frustratingly challenging. We found a workable solution using ultrawideband radio direction finding technology. You put in a couple beacons, you take the robot out of the box, you drive it around the perimeter of your lawn and the interior features, and you’re done. And we thought that was a good customer experience, and it allows for the sort of physical programming that made the original virtual walls on Roomba quite successful.

And then we had to go build a robot that was durable enough to operate and survive outside—we have a lot of experience there, from building military robots. And we had to design a cutting system which combined safety and effectiveness—cutting a blade of grass correctly is actually really hard. We invented a novel self-retracting blade that balances the need for safety with the mission of giving a cut comparable to the type of cut a high quality mulching mower would give. It’s a really cool solution, and we believe that with Terra, you buy this robot and you’ll never mow again.

Once Terra is shown where to go, that knowledge is locked in.
Once Terra is shown where to go, that knowledge is locked in.

Pricing for Terra has not been announced yet. If you are someone who loves getting out and mowing your lawn, it will probably seem expensive. But if you’re someone who dreads mowing and usually leaves it too long between cuts, or you simply place a high value on your leisure time, cost may be irrelevant.

What do you think? Are you a Jetson or a Flintstone?

Next someone will come up with a robot to wash your floors. Oh wait… have you met Braava?

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