iRobot’s iconic autonomous robotic vacuum Roomba is cleaning floors in 15 million homes around the globe. It isn’t hard to believe that if people are happy to have an affordable little robot clean their floors, that they wouldn’t be even more excited to have one remove weeds from their garden. While others were building battle bots, Joe Jones spent his side time at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1988 designing the Roomba. Eventually, the Roomba went commercial in 2002 with Jones at iRobot.
Now Joe Jones “thinking outside the house” has started his second robotics company, Franklin Robotics, to build a garden version of Roomba, called Tertill, that autonomously roams in garden beds hacking out weeds. The Tertill project has been funded by global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Tertill looks similar to Roomba, but is solar-powered and is armed with a spinning string trimmer to slice off weeds at or slightly below the ground (presumably the roots do survive). Tertill is pretty self-sufficient as it is able to recharge itself drawing juice through the large solar panel on its back to allow it to run for about two hours a day. The 2.5 pound robot roams around on its merry way decapitating weeds in your garden every day, while avoiding coming in contact with the good plants if they are taller than an inch, via built-in sensors and its circular shape. Plants you want to go unharmed that are shorter than an inch must be enclosed by small metal guards that Franklin Robotics will ship with Tertill.
There are some questions about how Tertill, which can be pre-ordered for $225 here and will begin shipping in spring 2018, will stay in its boundaries. Currently, Tertill which is designed to monitor around 100 square feet, does need at least a two-inch barrier around the garden area to prevent it from wandering away. But Franklin Robotics has said they are working on additional options to help gardeners to define Tertill’s boundaries like in-ground sensors.