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The do’s and don’ts of robotic mower purchases

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With more robotic mowing options emerging, navigating the marketplace will continue to become more challenging. (Photo: Sunseeker)
With more robotic mowing options emerging, navigating the marketplace will continue to become more challenging. (Photo: Sunseeker)

As more and more robotic mowing options hit the market, landscape contractors need to know exactly what they’re getting into. Does the mower you’re purchasing utilize an in-ground guide or boundary wire? Does it operate off of a GPS signal? Or does it use built-in sensors?

To answer those questions, LM talks with Matt Moore, director of robotics sales for Sunseeker.

Do

Know the machine you’re buying. Moore says it’s crucial to fully understand the robotic mower you’re buying. He adds that robotic mowers aren’t just choppers anymore, with advancements in AI and machine learning, today’s robotic mowers are built to maintain.

“Because most robotic mowers are designed to be maintainers, you need to make sure that your mowing schedules are correct,” he says. “If your customer wants that golf course look, you need to make sure that it has the right amount of time to operate and maintain the turf’s height.”

Know the property/properties the machine is working on. Some of the most important questions a contractor should consider before choosing a robotic mower include: Is the property especially hilly? Does the customer have pets or children that could present obstacles for the mower to maneuver around? When does the customer want the mower to run?

One that contractors can sometimes forget about, Moore says, is whether or not the property has fences and how the mower will need to navigate around or through them.

“If it’s a physical fence, there are companies that make gates that allow them to pass through. However, some of them are a little bit unsightly,” Moore says. “But also, certain people have really expensive fences and don’t want you to cut. So that might change how you approach it. You might do one in the front yard and nothing in the backyard, or vice versa, or you might install two machines.”

Invisible dog fences pose a different dilemma for contractors, as that might limit options to exclusively GPS or wireless-capable mowers.

“If you’re using a wired system, you’ll need to make sure it’s compatible and won’t interfere with the existing fence,” Moore says “But, if you want to avoid a headache, wireless might be the only option available to you.”

Don’t

Forget about parts and maintenance. While contractors might think robotic mowers are set and forget machines, it’s important to remember that they have unique maintenance needs.

“It might be a little bit more cumbersome because a lot of (robotic mowers) are designed so you have to take the machine almost completely apart to fix something simple,” Moore says.

That extra time spent on maintenance is something that robotic mower manufacturers are working on mitigating, Moore adds. He points specifically to wheel motors and blades as pain points that contractors should expect to be addressed in the future.

Forget to ask questions. With the increase in robotic mowers on the market, contractors need to be sure they’re asking the right questions to understand what each particular model can do. That starts with the simplest question, ‘How much can it cut?’

“Is it a half-acre, quarter-acre, an acre?” he says. “Also (ask about) runtime. With newer wireless machines, it’s not that big of an issue because systematic mowing reduces it. But if they’re selling products or buying products that are wired, (it’s important) to understand the timetable and the customer’s expectations on how often it runs.”

Be afraid. “Don’t be afraid of it,” Moore says. “There’s a lot of hesitancy because people think it’s going to eliminate a position or eliminate headcount. But that’s not the case, you’re going to need people to install, work on and understand them. Just keep your mind open. There’s a lot of change coming, but at the end of the day, it’s just another product to help you focus on more profitable things in your business.”

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Rob DiFranco

Rob DiFranco is Landscape Management's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Landscape Management, DiFranco was a reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio.

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