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Where’s my robot lawn mower? Roomba-maker now has an answer

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Wheres my robot lawn mower Roomba-maker now has an answer

BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) — Robot vacuums have now been around long enough that you might watch one bump around a living room and think, why isn’t there a robot that could mow my lawn? Turns out, it’s not for lack of trying.

For more than a decade, iRobot, the company behind the Roomba vacuumbot, has been working — and working — on robotic lawn mowers. Now it finally has something to show for the effort, though it’s come at a cost.

“Honestly, this robot drove me insane,” said iRobot CEO Colin Angle after showing off Terra, the company’s long-awaited first lawn mower. “It has been an obsession.”

The flat square autonomous grass-cutter that Angle’s company is unveiling Wednesday resulted from a protracted engineering struggle that included dead-end experiments and a conflict with radio astronomers.

Angle and his colleagues have been fielding the question, “So, when are you going to mow my lawn?” since the company starting selling Roombas in 2002. But teaching a robot to navigate a typical American yard without destroying its flowerbeds was harder than it first seemed. “There was a lot of despair and frustration on the journey,” Angle said.

Engineers threw every technology and mechanical design they could at the secret project, which they hid behind tall, opaque fences abutting a freeway just outside iRobot’s Massachusetts headquarters. The test lawn included a picnic table and other obstacles.

The first problem was helping the robot identify its location so it wouldn’t get lost and miss spots. Satellite-based GPS technology didn’t do the trick; it was too “finicky” because interference from tree branches or nearby houses could render it useless, Angle said.

Also ineffective was the sophisticated computer vision that powers the latest Roombas. The technology didn’t work well outside because camera lenses can get blocked by leaves or dirt, and its machine-learning algorithms get confused as the mower bumps up and down. Laser range-finders and ground-based beacons presented different challenges.

The company made so many attempts that several early lawnbot prototypes can be spotted in the 2008 heist film “21.” They make their appearance in a scene where Angle plays a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announcing the winner of a robotics competition. The current Terra looks nothing like those prototypes.

“We had given up,” Angle said of the project. “We probably gave up twice.”

Ultimately, though, financial pressure on the robot maker to diversify its product lineup raised the stakes. (After spinning off its defense robotics division in 2016, iRobot is almost exclusively a seller of vacuums. The main exception is the Braava robotic mop, which accounts for a fraction of total revenue.)

Robotic lawn mowers also started to proliferate in Europe, where they’re now a roughly $300 million industry. Those robo-mowers, however, require homeowners to set up a perimeter of boundary wires to keep the machines in a confined area.

Angle said that works well in Germany, where backyards are typically small, flat and rectangular, but not in the meandering lawns of the United States. American lawn culture also sets a higher bar for what a cut should look like: straight, back-and-forth lines are prized, he said.

The company finally found its answer in a radio technology based on “ultra-wide” bandwidths that would guide the mowers with the help of beacons situated around the lawn, combined with the map-making memory that iRobot already uses for its vacuums. But that idea ran afoul of astronomers who said the radio signals could interfere with their studies of interstellar chemistry.

IRobot eventually won permission from the Federal Communication Commission to use ultra-wide bandwidth for wireless robotic lawn mowers — though not before Harvey Liszt, spectrum manager for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, argued to the FCC that “there is already a competitive market for robotic lawn mowers using wire loops, which has somehow failed to stanch the stream of ghastly accidents and spilt gasoline that iRobot associates with the mundane practice of lawn-mowing.”

The quiet, electric-power mower sports twin mulching blades that are meant to work slowly on a lawn — instead of the typical once-a-week cut with a push mower, it can maneuver around a lawn daily or a few times a week — and returns to its station when complete. Users can schedule the machine with a phone app; if it runs down on juice while moving, it will return to its dock to recharge, then resume where it left off.

The robot will first launch in Germany, where iRobot hopes to capitalize on an existing market where perimeter-based models made by Husqvarna, Bosch and other firms are already popular. The mowers will go on sale in the U.S. in 2020 after an invite-only beta launch later this year.

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Democrats

Joe Biden invokes Charlottesville to announce his presidential campaign

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Joe Biden invokes Charlottesville to announce his presidential campaign

The worst kept secret in DC has finally been made official. Former Vice President Joe Biden has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President. The Establishment wing of the party is mostly rejoicing.

Unlike many who have already announced their candidacy by going on talk shows for the audience energy, Biden’s announcement came in the form of a video, reminiscent of how Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy in 2015. In the video, Biden claims to have been driven to run against President Trump following the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally and protests in which counter-protester Heather Danielle Heyer was killed by a white supremacist. It wasn’t the event itself but the President’s infamous reaction to the incident that Biden claims was his inspiration to run.

He joins a crowded field as one of the two frontrunners. Former candidate and current Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is ahead in some polls, behind in others, but the two are far ahead of the rest of the field.

Some doubts sprung up about whether or not he would run following a report by former Democratic lawmaker Lucy Flores that Biden inappropriately touched her and kissed her on the back of her head without permission. She was appalled because, among other things, she hadn’t had time to wash her hair that morning.

Now that it’s official, Biden is sure to continue making waves. Whether or not he has enough support from the moderate wing to overtake the other candidates, nearly all of whom are radical progressives, remains to be seen.

Petition Capitol Hill for Term Limits

Sign the petition. We demand Congress immediately put together legislation that spells out term limits for themselves. Americans need to know who is willing to suppress their own power for the sake of the nation. This can only happen by bringing legislation to the floor.

Will you help revive the American Conservative Movement?

 


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Conspiracy Theory

Former CIA analyst: U.K. spied on Trump campaign, passed information to Obama team

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Former CIA analyst UK spied on Trump campaign passed information to Obama team

OAN’s Neil W. McCabe spoke to a former CIA analyst, Larry Johnson, about the 2016 spying by the Obama administration against the Trump campaign. He indicated the British government helped participate in the spying and even gave direct information to the administration as a form of “oppo research.”

By taking advantage of the “Five Eyes Club” – a joint effort of intelligence sharing between the U.S., U.K., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia – the Obama administration was able to put together enough information to help them “find” a case they could make against the candidate. It yielded no real fruit, but that didn’t prevent the illegally gathered data from later being used to help justify the bogus Mueller probe.

It’s bad enough the former administration used American resources to try to stop an opposition candidate. It’s worse that they employed the services of our allies. This is a bombshell that mainstream media won’t discuss.

Petition Capitol Hill for Term Limits

Sign the petition. We demand Congress immediately put together legislation that spells out term limits for themselves. Americans need to know who is willing to suppress their own power for the sake of the nation. This can only happen by bringing legislation to the floor.

Will you help revive the American Conservative Movement?

 


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Foreign Affairs

Netanyahu to push for town in Golan Heights to be named after President Trump

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Netanyahu to push for town in Golan Heights to be named after President Trump

The relationship between the leaders of Israel and the United States is at its strongest point in decades, possibly ever. President Trump has fulfilled his promise to reverse the damage done by his predecessor in foreign affairs, particularly with certain allies like Israel. Now, the Prime Minister of Israel is calling for a nice tribute.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video Tuesday detailing his desire to honor the President following the Passover holiday.

Opinion

When the President announced the need for America and the rest of the world to recognize the Golan Heights as a sovereign part of Israel, most on the right in both countries cheered. It was a departure from a long-standing policy, one that has been overdue in need of changing.

This gesture should not be dismissed. It’s significant because the United States has been one of the few allies for the Jewish state, but that status was put in jeopardy by President Obama who called for a return to the pre-1967 borders. Such a move would put Israel in a strategically untenable position, making it practically impossible for it to defend itself against attacks from the north.

Settlements in the region have been greatly misunderstood, mostly due to United Nations propaganda. These settlements are not intended as a middle finger of sorts towards the U.N. and all the nations calling for the land to be returned. It’s a strategic maneuver that empowers Israel to protect its vulnerable borders.

By naming a settlement after President Trump, Israel will help solidify the relationship for at least another two years and possibly much longer than that.

Quote

“Therefore, after the Passover holiday, I intend to bring to the government a resolution calling for a new community on the Golan Heights named after President Donald J. Trump.” – Benjamin Netanyahu

Final Thoughts

Israel is the one true democracy in the Middle East and the only ally in the region that shares our values. Our future is as tied to them as their future is tied to ours. It’s imperative that this relationship remains strong.

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