Robotic Mowers: Has the Time Come to Welcome Our New Robot Overlords?

The world we live in wouldn’t be the incredible place it is today without the countless advancements made in robotic engineering in the last 60 years.  Automation has made factories fast and efficient, robotic prosthetics can function as healthy limbs, and surgical robots can perform intricate surgeries that dramatically cut hospital stays, the risk of infections, and human error.  We’re even on the cusp of having our cars drive themselves.

But should they do everything for us?

Millions of people worldwide have invested in robots that vacuum their homes.  And why not?  They’re quiet enough to work while you sleep, they work around obstacles, and they return to their station when they need to recharge their batteries.  It’s an efficient device that can make your life easier.  The same kind of technology is used in robotic mowers.  They’re wheeled robots with cutting blades that quietly cut your lawn at night or whatever time is convenient, mulching your clippings back into the turf to provide nutrients for your soil.  They have anti-theft devices, and the blade stops immediately when the unit is lifted.  While this all sounds good in theory, the robot mowers on the market today have many drawbacks.

  • Commercial robotic mowers are expensive and can cost upwards of $25,000.
  • Before your first use, you must tack down a wire around the perimeter of your property, much like an invisible fence for your dog.  
  • The limit for the perimeter wire is typically 2,000 feet.  If your perimeter is larger than that, you’ll need multiple mowers.
  • Like robotic vacuums, they move around randomly until the entire area has been covered which means you won’t have those straight mowing patterns that look so nice.
  • They don’t work on steep slopes or grades.
  • If your flower beds don’t have a border that’s at least 4” high or you haven’t gone around all of them with the perimeter wire, say, “Bye bye, begonias!”
  • Blades can’t be sharpened and need to be replaced every few months or so depending on the size of your property and the frequency of the mowings.
  • Charging can take anywhere from an hour and a half to eight hours.
  • To work best, they should be used several times a week, cutting a very small amount each time.
  • Because they don’t use bags, the clippings go back into your lawn.  This does provide vital nutrients, however, it can build up a thick thatch that can be detrimental to your turf’s growth.
  • With robotic vacuums, you can retrieve an item that may have been left in its path.  With robotic mowers, it’s so long, sayonara, arrivederci to anything smaller than 4” tall that it encounters.  This includes your sprinkler heads so you’ll probably have to work the mowing around your watering times.
  • They can’t maneuver themselves close to a fence so they’ll leave an unmowed strip next to it.  In fact, they do tend to miss spots on your lawn that you will have to trim yourself.
  • They can’t cut tall grass.
  • They can’t go over gravel or mulch because it will damage the blades.
  • If your property has slopes, the batteries will run down more quickly.
  • They need to be cleaned.
  • The wheels can get caught in any small holes or depressions.
  • If your property is crisscrossed by concrete or paved walkways, robotic mowers would be unable to cross them without help from humans.
  • Replacement batteries are expensive.

However, this doesn’t mean the use of robotic mowers doesn’t have potential.  They are more eco-friendly than gas-powered mowers, and they’re quieter too.  But one of the main advantages to robotic mowers is that they fill the labor shortage.  In recent years, the U.S. has faced a large shortfall in the number of people wanting to work in landscaping, construction, and other labor-intensive industries, and with recent changes in immigration laws, it’s increasingly difficult to find workers to fill the gap.  Having robots to do the more menial jobs like mowing would allow more of our crews to be working on other landscaping tasks like plantings, pruning, and pest control.

The companies that make robotic mowers are working to solve the problems that are discouraging commercial landscapers to use them.  Husqvarna, for example, is currently working on getting access to satellites to enable the use of GPS with robotic mowers in order to have them cover greater parameters and eliminate the need for the perimeter wire altogether.  

Until advancements have been made, the use of robotic mowers in the commercial landscape industry is simply not practical.  If they can be made to be a useful solution, it’s important to keep the human factor involved.  There’s no replacing the mindful eye of a human technician professionally trained in the operation and maintenance of robotic mowers  to ensure that all operations are being performed safely and efficiently and that all units are being strictly cleaned and maintained so they are always in top working order.  Your robotic vacuum may do a great job cleaning your floors, but it still requires a human to empty and clean it and make sure it’s working properly.  

We believe in our people.  Our account managers (people) develop one-on-one relationships with their clients (also people) so every client has their needs, expectations, and concerns addressed quickly.  We hire hard-working, dependable crews (more people!) to perform mowing and maintenance services on all properties.  They pay close attention to detail so any issues they notice while mowing can be taken care of swiftly.   

At Bluegrass Landscaping and Maintenance, we’re proud of the work that we do.  After all, we’re only human.