ROBOTIC MOWERS: FAD OR FAB?

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Introducing Robotic Lawn Mowers

The concept behind a robotic mower is simple: use smart technology to program a mowing machine to operate by itself, freeing up people’s time for more relaxing or creative pursuits. In reality, it’s a little more complex than that, but not much.

A lawn mowing robot consists of a housing, a blade, an electric motor and battery, and a lot of sophisticated software.  Each mower comes with its own charging dock, and most will automatically return to it to juice up when the battery gets low.  And, most units are well protected with alarm systems to protect from theft.

Capacity ranges vary. Generally, mowers will handle a quarter acre or more of lawn—some up to an acre and a half. Larger areas can be set up with multiple mowers. They do require boundaries. Like an invisible dog fence, the boundaries of the area to be mowed are defined in most models with a perimeter wire, which can be buried if desired. If you have irregular areas to mow, no worries: a lawn mowing robot is “smart” enough to handle odd-shaped lawns, and can be set to mow around flower beds, trees, and other obstructions. These mowers can even sense where the grass grows faster or thicker, and will give more attention to those areas.

Once the hardware is in place, it’s just a matter of programming the unit to mow to your specifications. Many models allow you to easily monitor and program the unit right from your smart phone or tablet. A robotic mower tackles a lawn differently than a person with a traditional mowing machine. These small units are designed to trundle around your lawn slowly, clipping as they go. It’s more of a continual process than the conventional cut-and-let-it-grow approach. So you might program your mower to cut every day, every other day, or even at night when everyone is sleeping and the yard’s not in use.

The result is that there is never that sudden realization of “Oh, no, the grass is suddenly 8 inches tall, better go mow the lawn!” Instead, the lawn looks newly cut all the time. And this method of mowing is actually good for the grass: the lightweight robo-mower doesn’t compact the ground, and the smaller, more frequent clippings feed and enrich the soil.

What You Will Not Get With A Robotic Mowing Machine

Because they use electric motors, robo-mowers are quiet. You will never run out of gas and you won’t have to change the oil. And once the boundaries are set and the docking system in place, there is very little maintenance required.

But, they do have limitations. Slopes can be a bit problematic. Most models will only handle very modest slopes. However, as the robotic mowers have been so well-received, several manufacturers are working on robotic mowers that can handle steeper lawns and those are expected to hit the market in the near future.

Similarly, many robotic mower models are limited to short clipping heights – up to about 2.5” as they were first developed in Europe where that height works for most grasses. In North America, a 3”-3.5” lawn is standard in cool season areas, and with the rise of interest in robotic mowers on this side of the Atlantic, we can expect to see higher clipping heights available soon.

Looking Forward. Are Robotic Mowers Really Coming To A Lawn Near You?

In short, robotic mowers save time. For many homeowners who have always mowed their own lawns, trading mowing time for free time may is an irresistible offer. For those who already have their homes serviced by a landscape professional, look for increased use of these mowers by contractors as well. This technology treasure frees up landscape crews from routine mowing to spend more time on the details that make a difference.

Besides, those little robots are really cute. Who can resist?