The greatly anticipated robot lawn mower from iRobot is finally upon us. After many years of waiting, with many people giving up hope it would ever happen, iRobot has finally announced that it will launch the Terra robot lawn mower later in 2019. It will first go on sale in Germany, along with a beta test program in the United States.
iRobot, the company behind the popular Roomba robot vacuum cleaner and Brava robot mop has been long rumored to be interested in entering the growing robot lawn mower industry. Believe it or not, it’s been over 10 years since the first rumors of a robot lawnmower from iRobot first surfaced.
iRobot certainly has the credentials and experience to make a very good robot lawn mower and it is one that I am very interested to see when it launches later this year.
iRobot tends to focus on ease of use and simplicity in their products and certainly, their Roomba line of robot vacuum cleaners fits this bill and are the market leaders in this field.
How Does The iRobot Terra Work?
One of the key features of the iRobot Terra is that it will not use a perimeter wire to mark the boundary of the lawn. This is fairly groundbreaking, as up until now almost every other robot lawnmower requires you to laboriously place a perimeter wire around your lawn at a specific distance from the edge of the lawn. This allows robot lawn mowers to sense the edge of the lawn and cut as close to the edge of your lawn as they are able.
There is only one other model on the market at the moment, from Ambrogio which does not use a perimeter wire. However, this model has a number of drawbacks which mean that it is not suitable for a lot of users and I generally don’t recommend it to people over the models that use a perimeter wire. I wrote an article about why it is so difficult to make a robot lawn mower without perimeter wire here.
The iRobot Terra will use a series of wireless beacons that you place around your yard instead of a perimeter wire. These will provide a wireless, localized positioning signal to allow the iRobot Terra to find it’s way around your lawn.
When installing the iRobot Terra, all you need to do is place these wireless beacons and then manually drive the robot lawn mower around your yard so that it can learn where the edge of your grass is.
After this, you can let The iRobot Terra work away and it will cut your lawn without any user intervention. It will even drive around obstacles that you have in your lawn such as trees or garden furniture thanks to its obstacle detection systems.
Another great feature of the iRobot Terra is that it will cut your lawn in stripes, which is unlike most other robot lawn mowers available on the market. With a few exceptions, robot lawn mowers use random computer algorithms to tell the machine what direction to mow in. This random pattern eventually leads to all of your grass
The iRobot Terra will move up and down in stripes until it completes the job of cutting your grass. Whilst I don’t think this will produce a beautifully striped lawn, it will be more efficient and get your grass cut quicker than other robot lawn mowers available on the market today.
Whilst we don’t yet know about the iRobot Terra’s specifications, iRobot have given some indication regarding the safety features that will be built into every machine. The iRobot Terra will have a system that stops the blades from working if the machine is lifted or tilted and there is also an emergency stop button which will deactivate the machine in mediately. The blades will also be tucked safely under the machine, meaning the risk of injury will be extremely low.
Almost every robot lawn mower on the market today has excellent safety features and credentials. Of course, this is essential if companies want to convince us to welcome an automated blade-wielding machine into our gardens.
Read my article on robot lawn mower safety features here.
How Do You Control The iRobot Terra?
Whilst the specifics of this haven’t been announced, we do know that it will have smart features integrated. This will mean that you will be able to monitor, control and schedule the iRobot Terra from a smartphone or tablet.
There are also likely to be manual controls on the machine itself, but we do not yet know the specifics of this. I will update this article as soon as new information becomes available.
Why Did It Take iRobot So Long To Launch The Terra?
iRobot has had a market leading position in the robot vacuum cleaner market for years, and robot lawn mowers seem like such a natural extension of its existing product range. iRobot’s products are well-liked and get great reviews. We’ve actually been waiting so long that many people have almost forgotten about the hype.
Whilst we don’t know all the reasons for the delay, we do know that a significant reason was that iRobot didn’t want to use a perimeter wire for edge-sensing. This posed a number of technical and regulatory problems.
Unfortunately, iRobot’s proposal of using fixed outdoor radio beacons to transmit positioning information to the robot lawn mower required a waiver from the FCC. The FCC prohibit the use of fixed low-power radio transmitters without a license, and iRobots proposal was exactly this.
iRobot needed a waiver from the FCC to proceed with their plans. They met stiff opposition from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, who lodged strong objections that the radio signals from these beacons would interfere with their radio telescopes. The FCC however, sided with iRobot in 2015 and granted in a waiver which enabled them to proceed with their plans.
Why then, has it taken from 2015 to 2019 for them to begin the launch of a product to the market. Unfortunately, only iRobot know this.
There are a number of technical challenges to building a robot lawn mower that doesn’t use perimeter wire.
- Firstly, most lawn’s are not bordered by walls, which provide the natural barriers that allow a robot vacuum cleaner to navigate.
- Secondly, an alternative positioning system needs to be very precise. GPS is only accurate to 10-20cm, but even a few centimeters here or there can mean the difference between a strip of uncut grass, or your robot lawn mower falling into a flower bed.
Even with today’s robot lawn mowers, it can take a bit of adjustment to get the perimeter wire setup perfectly to provide the best performance.
iRobot has likely been waiting for the technology to mature so that they can bring a fully featured and convenient product to the robot lawn mower market. I for one will be delighted to get my hands on this machine as soon as possible once it launches in Europe to put it through its paces.
Interestingly, the product is currently slated to launch in Germany later this year and as a beta program in the United States. At this time there are no further plans regarding the launch of the iRobot Terra in other countries. There is also no word yet on pricing, and this will have a massive bearing on the uptake of this product.
You may be surprised that the iRobot Terra will be launching in Germany first, rather than in iRobot’s home market of the United States. However, this makes perfect sense as the robot lawnmower market is much larger and more mature in europe, and Germany and the Scandinavian countries are at the forefront of robot lawn mower adoption.
Whilst the robot lawnmower market has been growing strongly over the last 10 years, it still makes up quite a small proportion of all lawn mowers sold. Houses in Europe typically have smaller gardens that are better suited to the capabilities of robot lawn mowers, but growth in the United States, particularly over the last 2 or 3 years has been significant. Husqvarna, John Deere, Worx and Honda are leading the charge to win over the American market.
iRobot will be hoping that their introduction to the market will signal explosive growth of robot lawnmower uptake if they can produce a compelling product. I feel that iRobot is ideally placed to take a large chunk of this market and I very much hope that their introduction is like Apple’s entry into the smartphone market in 2007.
Only time will tell how successful iRobot are with their new Terra robot lawn mower, but an additional competitor entering the market should stimulate competition and innovation which can only be good market as a whole.
If you are trying to decide on a robot lawnmower and don’t want to wait to see how good the iRobot Terra is, read my comprehensive guide to all the best robot lawn mowers available today.
Check back soon for more information about the iRobot Terra as I bring you the news, updates and hopefully a review of this product later in the year.