This September marks the 15th anniversary of the first Roomba but in spite of the devices massive popularity, no companies have managed to successfully follow in its footsteps with another mainstream home robot. The Tertill, however, could be the product to change that, drawing on a number of the Roombas lessons and applying to to an outdoor setting for regular garden maintenance using a small, built-in weed whacker.
Its no coincidence that the device shares a number of characteristics with the robot vacuum. A number of employees are ex-iRobot employees, including Franklins CTO Joe Jones, iRobots first full-time hire, who played a key role in the Roombas creation. According to the company, however, the startup settled on the familiar hock puck form factor because it just made the most sense for the task at hand.
We actually tried to get away from the circular shape for a while, CEO Rory MacKean told TechCrunch ahead of todays pitch off appearance at TC Sessions: Robotics. We want something thats robust and rugged, with a rectangular shape. We wanted to make it look like a tractor: four-wheel drive, corners. But then the corners dont make sense. It would get itself into a situation where it was hard to back out without damaging anything. You cant turn in place without damaging plants.
The circular shape, along with built-in sensors, help the robot avoid contact with useful plants taller than an inch the company is also shipping the robot with small metal guards to keep it from bumping into younger plants. The Tertill is designed to spend its entire existence outside, drawing power through the large solar panel on its back to fuel the two or so hours a day that it does its routine garden maintenance.
Like a weed whacker, the Tertill is more about keeping weeds under control, rather than uprooting them that would require a lot more sophistication that a $200 robot can provide. Though one of upshot to the products slated wheels is that they both till the social and damage smaller weeds while theyre still young.
The Tertill is scheduled to start shipping in May. The company is also planning to extend the devices functionality, similar to what iRobot has been working on with the Roomba. There are some additional options were looking at for Tertill, MacKean explained, connecting to in-ground sensors and adding more capabilities to the robot itself to provide greater insight to the gardener about the microclimate in their garden, connectivity to automated sprinkler systems to provide greater control, and additional methods of defining the robots boundary.