The robot revolution always seems to be just round the corner. Images of seamless “smart factories” and uncomplaining electronic home servants come to mind. As many people have pointed out, however, we’re still waiting for it.
Robotic lawn mowers are no different. They actually came to market in the nineties. And about four years ago were set to be the biggest expanding sector of the lawn mower market. But I’ve never seen one in a garden. All of the neighbours have normal lawn mowers. Sunny weather also brings people out onto their lawns in droves, and doing the amount of walking that I do, I really should have spotted a few robot-operated devices. Unfortunately not.
So what’s going on? Robotic lawn mowers solve a real problem. Few gardeners (that I know, at least) relish the thought of cutting the lawn. Neither do the kids who invariably end up doing the job.
Electric lawn mowers should be outrageously popular. Is it that the concept sounds good on paper but is really an early-stage technology that doesn’t fulfil its remit quite yet? The kind of thing that very rich people/tech-heads buy as a bit of fun? I have to admit, whenever I see a video of one of the soundless machines ambling along the ground, it doesn’t look like it’s doing a real job. Plus, they’re very expensive…a least compared to traditional models.
I’ve been wanting to explore the topic a little more deeply for a while, so I thought I’d sit down and write an article about it. If you’re thinking about buying one, or just want to learn more, then I hope you enjoy it. Want a quick overview of the most popular models? Click here.
The short version: most popular robot lawn mowers
|Husqvarna Automower (Range)||$$$||10/10|
|Worx Landroid (Range)||$$$||9/10|
How do robotic lawn mowers work?
The following info describes how the vast majority of the robot lawn mowers I’ve researched work. Whenever you see them in action, you would be forgiven for thinking that they’re not actually cutting any grass! Robot mowers are more like grazing sheep. They take a little bit off every time, passing the same spot again and again. The mower is set to work on a specific schedule, numerous times weekly or monthly. Because they “nibble” rather than cut the lawn, they work a lot more than a normal mower (it’s not a thirty minute job).
Every robot lawn mower comes with a perimeter wire. This is placed around the garden (it can be dug under the lawn) and sets the boundary in which the lawn mower cuts. Whenever it runs out of battery it returns to its station, which needs to be plugged into an outdoor outlet or an indoor one that’s near to the garden. There is also usually a collision sensor so that it doesn’t bang into objects within the boundary (and children).
Robotic mowers ensure that the lawn is cut by following a random pattern within the wire boundary. Some also have GPS technology for establishing boundaries. Most are also what are called “mulching mowers.” That means that they take a very fine clipping of the lawn and leave it to decompose down into the grass. Mulching is actually better for your lawn.
How hard is the set up?
The obvious drawback is the initial set-up. There are a couple of steps involved but, once it’s done, that’s it. The whole process probably takes less time than one cutting of the lawn anyway.
Basically, you need to lay your boundary wire, the guide wire (which will lead the mower back to the station) and set up your docking/charging station. That’s it, at least initially. You’ll then want to monitor the mower to make sure that you set the time frames to fit with your needs.
What’s the general verdict?
From what I can tell,robot mowers are getting better. The inexpensive availability of relatively recent technologies like rechargeable lithium-ion batteries has made them more effective. Many also have rain sensors, GPS trackers (so you don’t need to worry about thieves) and apps which can be used to track progress.
There are a few points on the negative side, however. Consumer Reports point out that some mowers can fray the grass, leaving the lawn more susceptible to drying out and disease. And though they’re generally low-maintenance, the blade(s) will need replacing. You’ll also have to give up on rectangular lines too.
It’s generally accepted that the American market is slower-moving than the European one, so the Continent will be the place to look to see how things move. As they get cheaper (or if they catch on and everybody starts buying) I can really see them taking off.
How are they priced?
The big downside, however, is the price! At the lowest end of the spectrum, you can pick one up for around $800. At the other end, you can go all the way up to $3,500 and beyond. As one reviewer points out in her test of the John Deere robot mower (called “Tango”), that’s enough to pay somebody for several years to come and cut the lawn.
My personal opinion, however, is that this will probably change. It’s notable that virtually all of the major mower manufacturers – Husqvarna, Honda, Flymo etc. – have models available. Some have numerous models and ranges. I very much doubt that the “lawn mower revolution” (a phrase I’ve just invented) is a figment of my imagination. Once the price comes down enough, and if they can be made a little less complex to set up, I imagine most people will have one.
Which are the most popular models?
So which are the most popular models on the market and what features do they actually have?
Husqvarna Automower (US & UK)
The Husqvarna Automower is supposedly the world’s best-selling lawn mower. It’s actually a range (there are quite a few different models) that cater to lots of different lawn-sizes, preferences and budgets.
The model pictured above is the 450X, one of the most advanced mowers currently on the market. It can cover up to one and a quarter acres, has in-built rain sensors and will charge up fully in roughly 75 minutes (those good old lithium batteries, eh?). You can also stay up to date with your lawn’s condition with an app.
Worx Landroid (US)
The Worx Landroid range is notable because many of the models (those designed for smaller spaces) fall at the lower end of the price spectrum. Worx make a number of models across a range of price points, but if you’re looking to get started with one over a small area, then they’re a brand well worth giving a go.
It will mow up and down inclines up to a maximum of 20 degrees (so no steep gradients). It’s very easy to get going out of the box and also includes a rain sensor, which can be a problem with lower-priced models.
Bosch Indego (UK)
The Bosch Indego has a number of interesting features that its competitors don’t. Along with all the usual sensors, it’s able to figure out the most economical way of mowing a lawn, beginning with the edges and going from there in parallel lines (so it doesn’t work randomly).
Interestingly, it is also able to work out how often a lawn needs cutting and transfer this over to an internal calendar, so that it automatically works when it needs to, saving power in the process. There’s an app too.
Leave a comment below.
Have you tried any of the mowers that I’ve mentioned? Leave a comment below and let me know!