Meet MowBot: Husqvarna's Automower Robotic Lawnmower

I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Husqvarna’s Automower robotic lawnmower, my first thought was, “Well, that’s stupid.” I mean, why would someone need a Roomba for their lawn? Dumb.

Then I thought about it a little longer and started to weight the cost of the Automower versus my personal time and cost of cutting the grass or what I have been paying someone else to do it, and how nice it would be to come home and always have a perfectly groomed lawn, and Automower started to make a lot more sense. Then when I started to think about all the grief I get from my lawn guy—broken sprinkler heads, not coming for weeks at a time, yearly price increases—I started getting really excited about the prospect of letting a robot cut my grass.

While the concept of a robot lawnmower was totally new to me, Husqvarna has actually been making them for over 20 years. Yes. We have been living in a world where robots drive about cutting lawns for more than 20 years and most of us have been totally oblivious to it. Really, who knows what other amazing things robots are out there doing right this second?!? Since you were likely as oblivious to the robot mower concept as I was, it clearly shows that Husqvarna’s marketing in the US has fallen woefully flat.

The company realizes this as well, and is making a big push to change that. This year Husqvarna started an #AutomowerFirst campaign this summer (search the hashtag on Twitter or Facebook) where certain influencers were invited to try the mower in exchange for sharing their experiences. They originally reached out to Sound & Vision’s venerable Brent Butterworth, but it turns out Brent was missing one key criteria: he didn’t have a lawn. Thus, having met both criteria of A) knowing about smart home technology and B) owning a lawn, I agreed to give Husqvarna’s Automower a go.

Husqvarna offers four Automower models ranging from $1,999 up to the flagship model 450X at $3,499, and you can see all models here at Husqvarna’s Automower web page. The four mowers are very similar in mowing performance and operation, but the larger models have larger battery capacity to handle bigger lawns. For example, the entry model 315 takes about 60 minutes to charge and is designed to handle up to 0.37 acres whereas the 450X takes 75 minutes to charge up and handles up to 1.25 acres.

However, only the flagship offers GPS assisted navigation and a remote app to control the mower, and since I’m reviewing this for a technology publication, that’s the one I requested. I mean, frickin’ GPS in your lawn mower. The same technology that guides Tomahawk missiles into terrorist cells is steering your mower around your lawn. Bad. Ass.

According to Husqvarna, “An onboard GPS system creates a map of the garden, including where the boundary and guide wires are installed. Husqvarna Automower will then register which parts of the garden it has covered and adjusts its mowing pattern accordingly. This will ensure optimized lawn coverage and an excellent cutting result.” Thank you, satellites!

When you think about it, the payback on a $2,000 robot lawnmower is actually pretty reasonable. I was paying my lawn guy $35 to come every other week. So for 57 weeks’ worth of mowing, you could own an Automower and have it cut your grass every damn day if that’s what you wanted.

While you can install an Automower yourself, Husqvarna arranged to have a local professional come and do it for me. And, when presented with the option of working for several hours out in the brutal South Carolina summer or letting someone else do it for me, well, you can guess how that went. As the team was familiar with the mower and how it worked, they were much more efficient about laying the guide wire, know what sorts of “obstacles” might trip it up, or how far to run the wire from the edges of things.

The team showed up exactly to-the-minute at the agreed on time and brought several hundred meters of green low voltage wiring to string around the perimeter of my property and to cordon off any sections where the mower shouldn’t go like flower beds, tree roots, etc. The wire creates a continuous loop from the mower’s docking/charging station and carries a small amount of current that the mower identifies and knows not to cross. This keeps it from doing things like driving out into the street, going for a swim in your pool, or “getting lost” and stopping mowing. The wire “nails” into the lawn with little black plastic clips and after about three weeks, the grass mostly grows over the wire and it becomes invisible.

Once the guide wire is installed and the mower has charged up it’s ready to start mowing. Flip open the top hatch, type in your 4-digit code, press start, shut the hatch, and it’s off. The first thing I noticed was just how shockingly quiet the mower is. Rated at only 58 dB it is almost totally silent. In fact you really only hear the noise of the tires rolling over the grass and a small whir of the spinning razor blade cutting system. When it drives over a section of grass that needs cutting, the razors precisely chop off the blades like a ninja, making for a much cleaner cut. As the blades cut you hear a little jingling sound almost like if you had some coins in your pocket. Rest assured, the mower can be running at 3 in the morning and you will never know it. It is the Stealth bomber of lawn mowing technology.

The next thing I noticed is that the mower, which we named MowBot, or just Mow for short, doesn’t drive in any kind of pattern. If you are the type of person that loves well defined mowing lines on your lawn, or you like a predictably up-and-back pattern, then Automower will confound you. It will mow a little here, turn and then drive to the other side of the yard and mow there for a bit, spin around and then go to a new section.

Sure, it seems brutally inefficient, but there is some method to the madness however. The owner’s manual explains, “The movement pattern of the robotic lawnmower is random and is determined by the robotic lawnmower itself. A movement pattern is never repeated. With this cutting system the lawn is mown very evenly without any mowing lines.” Also, who am I to question a robot lawnmower? It is out cutting the grass while I am lying by the pool drinking a beer. What do I care how it goes about doing its job?!?

While you could just let the mower run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that just puts needless wear-and-tear on it, so you can set a mowing schedule either via the app or from the mower itself. Husqvarna recommended I cut my lawn two days a week so I set up a Wednesday and Sunday schedule. When it comes time to start, the mower backs out of its docking station, cuts until its batteries start getting low, drives back in and docks itself automatically, charges up, and then starts the process anew until that day’s schedule ends. It honestly requires no intervention on my part. I can even use the app to lower or raise the cutting height and determine how far past the guide wire it is allowed to drive.

If something happens where the mower “gets lost” it will stop where it is and wait for you to retrieve it. This happened a couple of times at my house where after a rain the tires slipped down a slope and the mower went past the guide wire. The Husqvarna installers came back and adjusted the guide wires a bit and it hasn’t happened since. When it stops or the hatch has been opened or if it has been picked up and moved, it requires the user’s 4-digit code to restart operation.

The Automower Connect app lets you keep up with the mower’s location from anywhere in the world as well. Since it has GPS embedded, I can get an exact position of the mower at any time. It also pulls up a Google Maps image of my home and I can see the mower’s progress and also a “heat map” of where it is focusing its cutting. While the mower is designed to mow even in torrential downpours, you can use the amp to call the mower back to home base to wait out a storm if you like.

The Automower is about the greenest way to mow your lawn possible. Well, maybe short of getting a goat or something. There’s no noise pollution, no exhaust or emissions, no gas or oil. You could practically say it runs on love. But, technically you can’t. Because it runs on batteries.

In my neighborhood, MowBot caused quite a stir. People would walk or drive by our property and literally stop in their tracks and stare at it, watching it silently drive around the lawn. I’ve met more people in my neighborhood since getting MowBot than in the 10 years prior. In fact, when walking around people will say, “Hey, are you the guy that has that robot mower thing at his house?”

Yes. Yes I am.

See MowBot in action:

COMMENTS
javanp's picture

'Cause this is how you get Skynet!

Tangential's picture

What's a lawnmower got to do with sound and vision?????????????????????????????????????????????

dnoonie's picture

So how loud is it? Less time mowing means more time for...movies!

I usually mow the lawn with an old fashioned push mower, it's quiet and doesn't stir up dust.

I'd actually just get more done in the yard, like taking down those trees that threaten the sidewalk with their roots, and that English Lawral that's on the verge of out of control in the back yard.

Cheers,

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