While robotic mowers have become commonplace in the European market, their adoption has been slower in the U.S. Despite this delayed acceptance, robotic mower manufacturers are confident that as awareness increases, so will these machines’ popularity.
“As more people become educated about the availability and benefits of robotic mowers in North America, adoption will become more widespread,” says Jason Connor, director of sales, commercial robotics North America for Husqvarna.
Jason Swanson, VP of global product development for Greenworks, adds that the European market is established and is still growing at 25 percent per year, but it took 10+ years from launch before the general public accepted robotic mowers.
“Many consumers are not aware that it is an option on the market, or they are not familiar enough with the many benefits of robotic mowers,” says Brian Manke, product manager for STIHL. “People are afraid of theft or are skeptical of the performance of robotic mowers.”
For landscape professionals, many are concerned with the feasibility of mapping certain properties. However, manufacturers have various solutions for this matter.
Greenworks opts to map yards with landscape beds and trees with guidewires, but the robotic mowers also have collision detection and a floating body that can react quickly to a gentle touch.
“I map some trees but not all,” Swanson says. “It’s optional. Depends on how delicate trees are and if there is a risk for the mower to be stuck on roots.”
STIHL’s iMOW has a fully automated mowing plan that can be tailored to a homeowner’s yard, so it avoids un-mowable landscape.
“This is yet another reason we sell this product exclusively through STIHL iMOW trained dealerships who can provide customized installation and pro landscaper support to problem solve any unique property challenges,” Manke says.
With Husquvarna’s Automowers, if one part of the yard is separated by a fence, the boundary and guide wires can be routed through an Automower Fence Door, allowing the mower to make a smooth transition between the two areas. Also, when it comes to driveways intersecting a property, Connor says creative boundary wire design can prevent the Automower from having to cross driveways.
“If necessary, a small passage can be created for the Automower to travel safely across a driveway,” Connor says. “This can be accomplished by running wires through existing expansion joints or by creating narrow grooves to effectively route wires.”
All three manufacturers are continuing to explore different technology options when it comes to robotic mowers and are confident there is no limit to the type of properties that could be maintained as technology continues to advance.
“I can’t imagine properties not possible to be mowed in the future,” says Swanson.
Benefits of Robotic Mowers
Robotic mowers also offer solutions to labor shortages. Manke says they can serve to supplement landscape maintenance crews, so they can focus on trimming, blowing and other tasks.
“It gives landscapers more bandwidth to expand their business,” Manke says.
Swanson says there are a few different business models landscape professionals could take advantage of, such as having a stationary installed mower that the landscaper monitors and supports through GW Fleet. They can also drop the mower off once or twice a week and pick it up when it’s done.
Connor suggests leasing out Automowers to clients during peak growing season.
“This increase in capability and reduction in costs for the business also results in a better overall customer experience,” Connor says. “The lawn is always mowed, even in-between visits, and time is focused on fine-tuning of the overall landscape.”
Aside from helping with the labor shortage, robotic mowers have other benefits beyond that.
Due to the frequent mowing and smaller clippings, robotic mowers are capable of improving the overall health of the lawn.
“One is the mulching mower functionality, which generates significantly less dust than a traditional mower, returns nutrients and moisture back to the soil for a healthier lawn and is beneficial for air quality and those with allergies,” Manke says. “Grass will be greener and healthier due to regular mowing and the added convenience of smart technology connectivity gives homeowners a well-manicured lawn with little-to-no effort.”
Connor adds that robotic mowers provide time savings, are emission-free, low noise and low maintenance.
“Another benefit is the lightweight chassis and variable paths of the mower that have far fewer impacts on the lawn,” Connor says. “Husqvarna Automower makes lawns become healthier.”
Choosing the Right Brand
Robotic mowers have been around since the 90s and as time has passed, more manufacturers are joining the fray with their own models. With the plethora of options, it can be challenging to know which brand to go with and understand the main differences.
Swanson advises considering the size and complexity of the lawn, slopes, fleet management options and price when looking for a reputable manufacturer.
“There are many robotic mowers on the market, and it can become overwhelming to choose one,” Manke says. “Beyond overall features and benefits, landscape professionals should consider the full cost of ownership and product service support. At STIHL one of the things that makes our robotic mowers unique is our sales and service model. STIHL iMOW is backed by a network of trained dealers nationwide.”
STIHL iMOW is equipped with LTE connectivity, GPS tracking and fleet management capabilities, which allows professionals to track and manage their fleet remotely from a computer or mobile device. Manke says their robotic mowers also have the fastest mowing duration for a given mowing area.
Husqvarna’s Automowers feature Exact Position Operating System (EPOS), which allows for a boundary wire-free solution in certain applications. For their wired units, Connor says their guide wire technology enables efficient coverage for complex lawns.
Some of the notable features of Greenworks’ robotic mowers are 4G connectivity, a cutting range up to 4 inches, and a fleet management system that is included for their commercial models.
Run times and charge times for the different brands of the robotic mowers vary. Variables in every application also affect these run times.
Greenworks’ runtimes range from 140 to 150 minutes. For the majority of Husqvarna’s product line, mow times range from one to four hours. Their new large acreage mower, CEORA, can mow up to six hours. STIHL’s models range from 60 to 150, but Manke says their automatic charge times make this irrelevant.
“With its intelligent charging system, iMOW maintains battery charge by automatically returning to its docking station and charging at the optimal charge rate as needed,” Manke says.
This article was published in the July/August issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.