Robotic lawn mowers see growing demand

Area homeowners can now put their feet up like George Jetson and leave the chore of lawn-mowing to a robot.

Robotic lawn mower dealerships have opened in recent months in the Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus areas, offering a fully automated, battery-powered alternative to the traditional gas-powered mower, officials said.

“To have their robot running around doing the work for them, freeing up their time, saving them money in the long run, I think it is a win-win,” said Dave Novak, operations manager of LawnBott of Dayton, located in Centerville.

Robotic lawn mowers are a growing market, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Sales of all types of robots for domestic tasks, including vacuum cleaning, lawn-mowing, window cleaning and others, could reach nearly 11 million units in the period from 2012 to 2015, with an estimated value of $4.8 billion, the group said.

Robotic mowers are projected to be among the most-demanded outdoor tools in the U.S. in the near future, according to Research and Markets, an international market research and data firm.

“In this next one- to three-year period, the market for robotic mowing in the United States is going to just explode,” said John Tarvin, a spokesman for Kyodo America Industries Co., the Atlanta-based manufacturer of LawnBott robotic mowers. LawnBotts were developed in Italy in 2000 and introduced to the U.S. in 2007.

Currently, three companies market robotic lawn mowers in the U.S.: Kyodo America, Husqvarna and Friendly Robotics. John Deere and Honda also have developed similar products that are being test marketed in Europe.

“We are about to have two giant global players who are in the lawn mower industry releasing robotic mowers in the U.S.,” Tarvin said.

Kyodo America is building a dealer network to install and service LawnBott systems, according to Tarvin. The company has about 40 dealers concentrated in the Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast regions, he said.

Robotic lawn mowers operate much like the Roomba, a robotic floor cleaning device that automatically vacuums floors while navigating a living space and avoiding obstacles.

LawnBotts move freely within a buried perimeter line that transmits a signal telling the robot where and where not to mow, similar to technology used by electronic pet containment systems. The device also can operate without a perimeter wire if the area is enclosed by a fence or small border at least four inches tall.

The Dayton and Cincinnati LawnBott dealerships are operated in conjunction with local pet containment system businesses. “We are already used to burying wire, easy for us to trouble-shoot, so (Kyodo America) brought LawnBott to us,” Novak said.

Robotic mowers can be programmed to cut the grass throughout the week to maintain the lawn’s look and reduce weeds, Tarvin said.

The robot automatically leaves its docking station and mows in an “adaptive random pattern,” working in a straight line until it bumps into an obstacle, such as a tree or flower pot, or until it comes to its perimeter wire. At that point it stops, backs up, turns and begins mowing in a different direction. The mower’s sensor monitors resistance to determine where the grass needs trimming.

When the mower reaches the end of its cutting cycle or its battery starts running low, the robot will search out the perimeter wire and follow it back to the docking station to automatically recharge.

Novak said LawnBotts range in price from $2,000 to $5,300 with installation, which is comparable to a gas-powered riding lawn mower or tractor. The robotic mowers can maintain yards from 5,500 square feet to more than one acre, depending on the model.

LawnBotts can work on slopes up to 25 degrees, and feature both rain and bump sensors, officials said.

LawnBotts are powered by lithium-ion batteries and require $7 to $10 annually in electricity to operate, Tarvin said. They produce no emissions to pollute the air and little noise, he said.

Kyodo America in 2008 issued a voluntary recall on about 530 LawnBott robotic mowers to correct a potential laceration hazard when the mower was lifted off the ground. Tarvin said the company has since modified the robots to add a secondary guard and a more precise inclinometer so it can determine what size hill or slope it is mowing. “We have had zero injuries from robotic mowers in the United States,” he said.

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