Roomba Inventor Thinks His New Weed-Killing Robot Could Become Another Hit

More than 10 years after inventing the Roomba, iRobot's flagship product, Joe Jones thinks he's onto the next big thing.

Meet Tertill, a solar-powered, weed-killing robot that is made by Franklin Robotics, a Billerica-based startup Jones co-founded with Rory MacKean, who worked with him at another robotics company in the area, Harvest Automation.

Franklin Robotics launched a Kickstarter campaign for Tertill on Tuesday, and it has already raised more than two-thirds of its $120,000 goal with over 400 backers, a majority of whom are paying at least $199 to get an early shipment of the robot. The $199 and $225 early bird versions of Tertill, which are expected to start shipping in March 2018, have already sold out, making $249 the lowest price customers can now pre-order it for. It's expected to retail for $300.

This first iteration of Tertill is meant for home gardens around 100 square feet in size, though Jones said he believes the robot's battery capacity could easily cover something 150-200 percent larger.

Here's how it works: Tertill patrols the garden daily and when something short enough passes under its shell, a sensor activates the robot's weed cutter. If it runs into objects above the height threshold, it moves around them and continues to search for weeds. For plants that are short, plant collars are provided to protect them from accidental beheadings.

"The notion is because the robot is out there every day, the weeds never have a chance to grow any taller," MacKean said.

Jones said he hopes Tertill will see the same kind of early adoption iRobot saw for Roomba when the Bedford robotics giant first released the robotic vacuum cleaner in 2002. If Franklin Robotics ends up following a similar path of iRobot, which is using its home robots as the building blocks for a "smart home," the startup could do the same for a "smart garden."

"Because the robot is out there every day, the weeds never have a chance to grow any taller."

Down the line, MacKean said Franklin Robotics could collect data from Tertill in the future to provide customers with better insights into what's happening in their garden. Jones also mentioned the possibility of using connected plant sensors.

Beyond home gardens, Jones said Franklin Robotics will look to eventually into commercial applications. Because Tertill removes the need for herbicides, Jones said he sees organic growers as a future market to tap into.

"Further development of the technology may make it possible for a robot with similar technology to weed any field in agriculture," Jones said.

Franklin Robotics has been completely bootstrapped up to this point, and it has four full-time employees.

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