Everything I’ve Learned Testing Several Robot Lawn Mowers

Everything I’ve Learned Testing Several Robot Lawn Mowers

For the past six weeks, I’ve been conducting an experiment. At 5 p.m. twice a week, every house on the block has a different robot lawn mower that begins mowing the yard just as everyone in the neighborhood takes their nightly stroll. My neighbors’ willingness to loan me their lawns has been great for testing a variety of robots on a variety of lawns, but it’s also been an amazing social experiment in how people feel about robots. Most people were fascinated, stopping to watch the robots work and ask questions, gathering in little groups to chat on the corner. But they also caused consternation on Nextdoor threads—a few people expressed judgment about the bots, saying they found them elitist and a waste of money and on a few occasions, didn’t mind saying so directly to my neighbors. Still, I was impressed by how, mostly, the robot lawn mowers brought my neighborhood together. It wasn’t just that the spectacle of the robots caused people to talk to each other both in person and online, but by using the robots on more than one lawn, I discovered that you could share a robot lawn mower with neighbors. Here are some other observations I’ve realized. 

Remote control is essential

Robot lawn mowers work in a variety of ways to define boundaries. Some require boundary wire buried around the mowing area and even some wireless lawn mowers still require physical RFID markers (a common tracking system that works similarly to Apple AirTags) that you scan into the app, placed around the yard for landmarks or to create “no-go” zones. While physical markers might be the most accurate way to define your mapped areas, according Scott Porteous, robotics product lead at Husqvarna (one of the oldest companies in the lawn mowing space), I’d add that they’re also a lot of work to install. Wireless lawn mowers using GPS are easier and only require you to walk the robot around the edge of the area once, using your remote control feature in the app; then the robot figures out the interior of that space. You can also use the remote control to move the robot if you need to later, either to new spaces or if it gets stuck. If I was buying a robot lawn mower tomorrow, regardless of price point, I would look for one that uses this method of setup without any physical markers. 

Additional anti-theft tactics need to be used

For the first few weeks, I’d watch the lawnmowers on each run, ensuring they got back to their docks—I worried about the lights on each robot acting as a beacon at night. They each had stickers I made explaining they were worthless once they left the property. I had, I thought, activated anti-theft on all the lawn mowers: I’d toggled the feature on in each app, and I’d even occasionally get a false alert that the Navimow installed across the street had left its boundaries. But I’d peek out the window and see it clearly in its garage, chilling as it charged. Over time, I relaxed. After all, it’s not as if these are toy cars—they’re large and heavy and on someone’s lawn. Then the Luba 2 disappeared. Someone swiped it as it was on a morning mow, right off the lawn of my next door neighbor—and I didn’t get an alert, nor did any camera pick it up.

This is how I came to understand the fallacy of the anti-theft features. While the robots do generally stop working when they leave the property, it appears that the GPS does as well. Most of the robots allow you to install a 4G card, but the reason for that wasn’t explained well in the instructions: It read as a way to simply extend the signal in case wifi on your property wasn’t effective. It turns out, though, that the only way the robots can communicate off property is through LTE; you can’t locate them without it. (It turns out many people place an Apple AirTag in the robot to help locate it.)

As soon as we realized the Luba 2 was missing, I opened the app expecting to get a GPS update of where it was, but the app still thought it was located next door. Mammotion’s tech support wasn’t much help in either recognizing the urgency of acting quickly or helping find the robot. So, if you’re going to get a robot for your front lawn, take as many additional security measures as possible. Install a camera that covers the whole area, for starters, but also a tracking tag—and install a 4G card just in case. I’d go so far as to test the anti-theft by picking the bot up and taking it outside the boundary, making sure you get notifications and everything is set up correctly. Also, many people dock their robot someplace other than the front of the house, such as a garage or around back. You might have to make sure to open the garage or gate for the robot when it goes to work, which means it’s less autonomous but likely safer. Considering the investment, you can also try to add your robot to your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy. 

Robot lawn mowers work best on uncomplicated lawns

While some bots, like the Luba 2, are exceptional at climbing inclines or obstacles, and some, like the Navimow, can turn on a pin, robot lawn mowers really want flat, level ground to work on. The less obstacles, the better—especially small obstacles like lighting, flagpoles, or shepherds hooks, that require the mower to navigate around a small imprint. Smaller mowers struggle with dips and hills. You’ll likely spend at least a little time amending your yard to make the robot lawn mower work more effectively, whether that’s leveling it out, giving your flower beds more recognizable boundaries, or removing small obstacles like bird-feeder poles. The more open space you have for the robot lawn mower to run, the more effective it will be. 

If you want lawn tracks, get a heavier mower

It is interesting that one of the most prized aspects of lawn-mowing for many people is the lines left in the lawn afterwards. Heavier mowers leave lines, regardless of what powers them, so small, light robots are less likely to leave the imprint while heavier robots, like the Luba, do. Still, due to weight, none of the robots are going to leave as much of an impression as a ride-along mower, or even a walk-behind mower, would.

I’ve never liked to mow my lawn, so alleviating that chore through a robot was great for me. But choosing the right robot and making your yard more accommodating for the mower is essential—and you have to make sure it is less accessible to would-be thieves. Still, I’m excited for how these robots will evolve over the next few years, the same way robot vacuums have, and I’m happy to have mine doing the work so I don’t have to.

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