The solar-powered Tertill robot keeps weeds in check


This September marks the 15th anniversary of
the first Roomba — but in spite of the device’s
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 Roomba’s lessons and applying them to an
outdoor setting for regular garden maintenance using a small,
built-in weed whacker.

It’s no coincidence that the device shares a
number of characteristics with the robot vacuum. A number of
employees are ex-iRobot employees, including Franklin’s CTO Joe
Jones, iRobot’s first full-time hire, who played a key role in
the Roomba’s 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 today’s pitch off appearance at TC Sessions: Robotics.
“We want something that’s robust and rugged, with a rectangular
shape. We wanted to make it look like a tractor: four-wheel
drive, corners. But then the corners don’t make sense. It would
get itself into a situation where it was hard to back out
without damaging anything. You can’t 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 product’s slated wheels is
that they both till the social and damage smaller weeds while
they’re still young.

The Tertill is scheduled to start shipping in
May. The company is also planning to extend the device’s
functionality, similar to what iRobot has been working on with the Roomba.
“There are some additional options we’re 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 robot’s
boundary.”

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