Why Astronomers Are Battling The Maker Of The Roomba

Apr 17, 2015 at 4:25 PM ET

The maker of the most popular robotic vacuum cleaner, the Roomba, wants to apply the same concept to lawnmowers. But to make that happen, it needs to tap into an obscure corner of the electromagnetic spectrum — the same range of radio waves that help astronomers find far-away stars and little-known gases. The battle is over how far away from the telescopes users of the automated lawnmowers have to be in order not to mess up the stargazing. The new robotic lawnmakers aren’t on the market yet, but iRobot is building them, based on patents the company has taken out.