When robots one day overthrow humanity and enslave us, we'll sing somber songs about the early days, when the signs of our impending doom were clear from the air, the sea — and the front yard. 

Home robot manufacturer iRobot is working on making the latter a reality, recently applying for a waiver request from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use a portion of the radio spectrum for its new line of robotic lawnmowers. The so-called robomower would use radio beacons on stakes positioned around a yard to stay within boundaries designated by the homeowner. The FCC doesn't generally allow such ad hoc networks because of fears they might interfere with GPS or cellular systems, but iRobot contends its tech won't a be hindrance due to its narrow coverage. 

Nice try, future robot overlords. 

A complaint filed with the FCC by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in March says the robomowers present a threat to all that is good in the world of radio telescopes. In a nutshell, astronomers use radio telescopes to target a specific frequency band that allows them to chart star-forming regions in space.

"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," a representative of the NRAO wrote in the complaint. "This also allows the Observatory’s telescopes to do a kind of celestial cartography that measures distances to star-forming regions with high precision, charting the course of galactic evolution."

Because the radio frequency proposed by iRobot for its robomower is between 6.65 GHz to 6.6752 GHz, astronomers fear networks within 55 miles of the radio telescopes will interfere with their operations. 

In a lengthy response to the complaint, iRobot moved to assure the FCC that the chances of any kind of interference with radio telescopes is "exceedingly low" due to the telescopes' remote locations and general lack of surrounding residential lawns. 

"The iRobot RLMs would adequately protect radio astronomy’s use of the 6650-6675.2 MHz frequency band," the company told the FCC. "The geographic location of the affected observatories, coupled with iRobot’s commitment to market and label the devices for residential use only, will serve to protect radio astronomy."

So far, the NRAO remains skeptical that iRobot's solutions will go far enough to protect its radio telescopes from robomower interference. In the latest filing, the organization even submitted photos showing potential robomower sites in proximity to their installations. 

potential moving sites within 55 miles of the observatory

Courtesy: NRAO
 

The organization maintains that while the robomower can operate over a vast majority of the U.S. without interfering with radio telescopes, there's still a chance without strong regulation that the mowers could prove disruptive. 

"... a toothless admonition to use only in residential areas does not suffice to satisfy the obligation to take all practicable steps to protect radio astronomy" as outlined in the law, the group adds.

And the songs of humanity's downfall shall sweetly end, "At least they tried..." 

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