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New state robot mower eats tall grass, amazes motorist onlookers

A new remote-controlled grass-eating robot purchased by the Ohio Department of Transportation already is gaining notoriety for slowing traffic and intriguing curious onlookers.

The four-foot-tall tractor will be on the prowl along highways and roads, controlled by a large electronic box operated by a watchful ODOT highway worker. It’s housed at an ODOT garage in Clayton and will get a first season workout in the Miami Valley this year.

The machine — first-of-its-kind in Ohio — cost $80,000, but highway workers say the price tag is worth it because the machine can reach nearly inaccessible, steep locations including areas in and around bridges, embankments and other tough-to-mow spots.

This year, ODOT is keen on hitting roadside locales that have been neglected in the nine counties that make up District 7.

If the machine performs well this construction season, the mowers could become a common sight along highways. The 1,600-pound mowers are diesel powered and feature rubber tracks and two-inch steel cleats. The mower passed a testing phase last year with flying colors, said Bob Lenser, ODOT’s Montgomery County Transportation Administrator.

“We can take it in areas where it’s not safe for a person to go,” Lenser said. The machine typically will push a rotary flail mower, but it can be equipped with a snow blower and finish mower, too. The mower has a horn and a yellow rotating warning light.

The mower’s operator, Rich Frederick, said it can be operated from 100 yards away. “We try to stay close to it to watch the terrain and ground so we don’t run over anything and tear it up,” he said.

ODOT worker Chuck Ashmore said he’s seen the mower slow traffic when it’s in operation and quickly devouring brush. “They didn’t know what it was,” Ashmore said. “It’s amazing for people to see.” ODOT is posting signs around areas of drone operation to alert motorists.

Ashmore said the mower can handle a week or two of human work in a couple of hours. “The amount of work it’s done for us has saved the state a fortune. It eats everything in its path. That thing just walks the dog,” Ashmore said.

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