Roomba’s quest for the lawn

photo: Husqvarna
photo: Husqvarna

The Husqvarna Automower 450X, which sells in Europe, retails for over $4,000.
For a decade, companies like John Deere and Husqvarna have made robotic mowers that function similar to a Roomba vacuum. In fact, iRobot, the company behind the Roomba vacuums, recently settled a dispute over radio frequencies with the Federal Communications Commission and will produce its own brand of robotic mowers.

Similar products are already on the market, like Husqvarna’s Automower designed for homeowners. A new feature includes a weather timer, which allows the mower to operate rain or shine. Sensors in its blades measure the size of the load, telling the machine the rate at which the grass is growing. If it’s not growing vigorously, the mower returns to its dock. It mows at night and in the cold. With a goal of constant maintenance, the mower typically cuts on a daily or bi-daily schedule. While a homeowner won’t get those pretty straight lines with this style of mower, the lawn never gets to that due-for-a-cut stage. The customer also can manage the mower’s settings and schedule remotely with a smartphone.

But robotic mowers are not flawless. Uneven terrain can throw them off course, and they have a limited coverage range. Companies boast an acre to 1.25 acres of coverage with perfect terrain, but a half-acre to a quarter acre is an optimal range. Plus, the aimless mowing pattern diminishes the quality of cut, often resulting in a rough look. In Consumer Reports tests, lawns were left with frayed and torn turf.

“They’ve sold well in Europe because the yards are smaller and people aren’t as particular about the way their yards look,” says Dana Lonn, managing director, Center for Advanced Turf Technology at Toro. “Yards there tend to be more ground cover than large expansions of turfgrass.”

Robotic mowers are also not cheap. Some start at $1,000, but they can run up to $5,000. They also require the installation of a border fence, similar to an invisible dog fence.

Though they haven’t had enough of an impact in the U.S. to affect business, it is certainly a product to keep an eye on going forward, experts say. Some food for thought: iRobot CEO and Chairman Colin Angle told Forbes recently that robotic vacuums make up 15 percent of a stagnant $6 billion vacuum cleaner market.

photo: Husqvarna

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Dillon Stewart

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

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