A Robotic Lawn Mower That Can Automatically Mow Your Lawn
By Oscar H. Will Iii | Sep 1, 2006
The LawnBott Evolution is a robotic lawn mower that will mow your lawn for you.
No longer just a futuristic dream, or an engineering class’s group project, robotic lawn mowers have evolved into sophisticated vegetarian pets that are dependable, largely self sufficient, and don’t leave any messes to clean up later. Imagine a quiet little shell-backed machine that wakes itself on schedule, emerges from its hutch, checks for rain or wet grass and when neither are present quietly goes about the endless seasonal chore of lawn maintenance. Already this sounds too good to be true, but that’s not all. That same little mower uses no oil or gasoline; it feeds on a diet of electricity carefully drawn from a high-tech, rechargeable battery pack. Unlike many pets though, the robotic mower heads home and feeds itself when it gets hungry.
Commercially available robotic mowers span the range from consumer-oriented models with appetites smaller than a quarter acre to large commercial units able to groom more than five acres of lawn all season. Larger golf-course sized robotic mowers are in testing, and virtually all models are regularly updated with new controlling software and better environmental sensors. Grit recently took a close-up look at Kyodo America’s Italian-built LawnBott Evolution, an autonomous mower that can maintain nearly an acre of lawn divided in up to three separate zones. The Evolution weighs a mere 22 pounds (thanks to its lithium-ion battery) in a package that is 22 inches long, 16.5 inches wide, and 10 inches high. Seems pretty small to be responsible for three-fourths of an acre, but this machine doesn’t work like a conventional mower or lawn service.
Not Your Father’s Lawn Mowing Pattern
Rather than mowing once a week, the LawnBott Evolution works by cutting little and often on a semi-random path that avoids problems associated with conventional mower patterns. It begins each work cycle by starting off in a new direction looking for grass to mow. As the high-tech tool’s cutting blade spins, resistance data are fed back to the Evolution’s brain, which constantly monitors the current draw on the blade’s motor. If the cutter spins easily, then the relatively low amperage draw is interpreted as short or thin grass. Under these conditions, the Evolution’s software cuts the blade speed to conserve energy. When heavier growth is encountered, this LawnBott turns up the juice, and embarks on a spiral path to cleanly and completely trim the area. By integrating blade resistance over an entire mowing cycle, the Evolution keeps tabs on the lawn’s overall condition and adjusts its work schedule (within owner-input parameters) accordingly.
Once the Evolution has learned the yard, it becomes a lawn nibbler instead of mower. This characteristic makes the grass look perfectly manicured every day of the week, with the added benefit of producing clippings that are generally less than half an inch long. Short clippings readily break down to become fertilizer instead of hanging around as disease-promoting thatch. No more collecting, bagging or hauling clippings – even more time saved. If lawn scraps are an important part of your composting program, you will need to rethink, but then again, if you currently fertilize your lawn you will no longer need to. Nutrient and energy cycles aside, is this robotic mower stuff for real?
A Robotic Lawn Mower Means More Time, More Play
My friend Gavin Foster recently put the LawnBott Evolution to work in his rural Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, yard, and so far he is thrilled by its performance and with the extra time he can now devote to other projects — including those in the yard. “I spend more time in the yard now than I ever did,” Gavin says pointing out the rain sensor on the back of his robot. “To my surprise, I recently planted my very first flower bed.” The former apartment dweller also adds that his first experience with lawn maintenance has been entertaining rather than physically draining.
Gavin discovered the LawnBott in the usual tech-savvy way through an Internet search, which led him to a discussion with Kerry Claybaugh, proprietor of Alabama Home Robotics (www.bamabots.com) — a great source of information and several brands of robotic mowers. After weighing the pros and cons of different makes and models, Gavin settled on the LawnBott Evolution because of its features, and without hesitation he sealed the deal with Alabama Home Robotics. The long-distance transaction went off without a hitch and within less than a week of ordering, Gavin’s Evolution was delivered. A few hours later, mowing at the Fosters’ made the transition from chore to spectator sport.
Gavin says that the LawnBott installation procedure was easy enough, but that it took some time to get it right. At the Fosters’ place, the robot interfaces with its non-physical boundaries through a proprietary electro-magnetic waveform that is delivered around the yard’s perimeter through a wire. The wire can be laid directly on the ground, or it can be buried in a shallow slot cut into the sod – in either case it is held in place with small plastic stakes. “There really is no need to bury the wire,” Gavin says, pulling blades of grass back to expose the wire’s path. “After about a week, the grass grows up around the wire and you don’t see it anyway.” Gavin’s lawn is irregular with plenty of edges and island-like areas where he didn’t want the mower to roam.
The LawnBott Evolution has an Easy Learning Curve
Learning how and where to place the wire to achieve the desired affect took a bit of trial and error, but in the end, the few hours that he spent with wire placement (and re-placement) paid off with a virtually carefree lawn. In situations where the yard is physically enclosed inside a wall or solid fence, the Evolution interfaces with its boundaries by feel rather than electronically. In both cases, once the Evolution encounters a boundary, it turns and heads off in another direction.
By day, Gavin works as an instructional technologist (computers and software don’t intimidate him) and he is pleased to report that programming the Evolution is easily accomplished through its touchpad. He also notes that the manual and other documentation provided with the mower are user friendly and offer good instruction on all aspects of the setup.
So are robotic mowers new-age toys, or futuristic tools? Although it looks whimsical, LawnBott’s Evolution is designed with heavy-duty motors and robust electronics that give it an expected 7- to 10-year productive lifespan. Kerry Claybaugh says that the lithium-ion battery has a life expectancy of three to five years and recommends replacing the blade every two years. As the Evolution’s makers develop improved control-logic algorithms, they can also be downloaded directly to the mower’s brain via the Internet. Considering that you won’t be pouring any sweat or gasoline into this machine, nor any hydrocarbon vapor or other pollutants associated with internal combustion engines into the atmosphere, at around $2,500 list, the LawnBott Evolution looks like a bargain tool all the way around. As a conversation starter, it’s priceless.
To learn more about the LawnBott and other robotic mowers, visit Kerry Claybaugh’s Web site at www.bamabots.com. For more information on the LawnBott line of robots and to request a demonstration DVD, visit Kyoto America’s robot Web site at www.robonext.com.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.
LawnBott Evolution: By the Numbers
At roughly $2,500 the LawnBott isn’t cheap. But it’s a safe, silent energy miser.
54 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, using an estimated 800 million gallons of gas per year.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gas-powered lawnmowers account for up to 5 percent of air pollution in the United States.
Nearly 80,000 Americans go to the emergency room every year because of lawnmower-related injuries.
Power lawnmowers have a sound intensity of about 90 decibels. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, decibels of 85 or higher may contribute to hearing loss.
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