Who's ready for a smart Roomba-style lawnmower?

Much as was predicted in the Jetsons cartoons, the day is eventually coming when you won’t have to do any household chores for yourself. If you’re an early adopter of all of the artificial intelligence robot technology you likely already have a Roomba from iRobot vacuuming your carpets for you. But now the company is ready to handle your chores out in the yard as well. Starting later this year you can sign up for a pilot program for their smart robot lawnmower that will remain parked quietly outside, mow the grass whenever it needs it and then go back and plug itself into its charging station. What could be simpler? I mean, it’s not like it’s going to go crazy and chop up your cat or anything, right? (Boston Globe)

Bedford-based iRobot has sold millions of its automated indoor vacuum cleaners. Now the company is ready to play in the backyard, with a battery-powered robotic lawn mower called Terra.

Unlike other robot mowers, which require wires strung around the yard to guide them, Terra will use battery-powered radio beacons. At first use, a human uses a joystick controller to steer Terra around the yard, and the machine memorizes the positions of the radio beacons and generates a digital map of the cutting area.

From then on, iRobot says, Terra can be programmed to mow automatically at regular intervals, parking itself on its battery-charging station whenever it runs low on power.

Unlike previous robot lawnmowers, this one doesn’t have to be tied to a pivot post or bound by external fencing. After giving it a quick tour of your yard using a controller, the robot will “memorize the positions of radio beacons and generate a digital map of the cutting area.”

Is that ringing any bells for you? This is the same company that makes the Roomba, which also “memorizes the layout of your house or apartment.” But it’s not only using that information to keep the carpets clean. The Roombas have been caught uploading all of that data to the manufacturer who then sells it. And it keeps track of which areas need the most cleaning at which times, creating a timetable of your movements.

This new device won’t just be mapping the perimiter of your lawn, either. They couldn’t risk having the mower chop up your pet or take your infant’s fingers off if they’re playing on the grass when it decides it’s time for some lawn care. It’s got to have visual sensors on it to “see” its surroundings, right? What else is it seeing and recording? And you’ll no doubt need handy software updates from time to time so it’s almost certainly going to be hooked up to the Internet of Things.

And unlike your Roomba, this thing has a high velocity, sharp metal blade on it. When the AI wakes up and the robot dogs from Boston Dynamics come after us, they’ll probalby be ordering these lawmowers to murder everyone foolish enough to be napping in a hammock out in their yard. Won’t that be fun? Welcome to Tomorrowland, kids. It’s going to be a blast.