Robotic lawn mowers have been around for many years, however we in the UK have favoured our traditional methods of mowing our lawns with both pedestrian and ride-on mowers. This is in stark contrast to some of our European counterparts who have fully embraced the arrival of robotic mowing technologies.
It is said that 1-4 home owners in Europe use robot mowers to mow their lawns. I have however noticed that the trend is changing, with many dealerships reporting a doubling of their sales of robotic mowers in the UK in the last two years.
One of the reasons for this has no doubt been driven by the advancement and improvement of these mowers to perform more efficiently over a wider range of topographies.
In Europe and around the world they are fast establishing themselves as efficient, time-saving helpers that take care of what is, for many, a necessary weekly chore.
Garden machinery specialists Husqvarna has been making robotic mowers for more than 20 years. Their models start at £1,000 and go up to £3,100 depending how big the cutting area is and size of mower required.
We now have a vast range of robotic mowers to choose from the likes of Viking (STIHL), Husqvarna, Gardena , Flymo, Yard Force, Worx Landroid, Robomow, Honda, Bosch, McCulloch to name a few.
The build quality and performance of these robotic mowers have improved immensely in recent years and now offer GPS technologies and app software solutions to improve ease of operation.
Depending on make and power the cost of these robotic mowers range between £500-£5,000, depending on make, size and on-board specifications.
A recent visit to The Mower Shop in West Haddon offered me the opportunity to catch up with owner Steve Bartle to discus the recent interest in robotic mowers. The dealership even have their own showcase lawn area with slopes to demonstrate their range of Viking (Stihl) and Robomow robots.
I was keen to find out more about these mowers and asked if I could arrange a demonstration trial of one for my brother-in-law Phil, who is disabled and not able to mow his lawn. Phil hates to rely on other people having to come in and mow his lawn and often when he manages to organise their time the weather is not always favourable. Steve Bartle @ The Mower Shop in West Haddon was keen to help and managed to arrange the use of one of the Viking (Stihl) iMow for the demonstration.
Like any purchase from The Mower Shop they come with a guarantee and service back up options.
As part of the deal when buying a robotic mower, Steve will send two of his dedicated staff members David Archer and Dave Low, both very experienced engineers, to help install the robotic mowers. Both have the relevant working experience in the turf industry having trained as mechanics and greenkeepers. Last year they installed over sixty robotic mowers and this year orders have doubled.
When buying a robotic mower a number of factors have to be considered to ensure you are buying the correct model to suit your needs. This will largely be determined by the size and topography of your lawn along with what type of controls you want to manage the robot.
In Phil’s case his lawn is only small, some 50m2, so he only required the smallest Viking iMow - the MI 422 model. This compact robot mower can mow small to medium sized lawns of up to approx. 500 m² and can cope with slopes up to 35%.
The robot is powered by a Lithium-Ion 18.5 volt battery that provides around a 30 minute cutting time and can be recharged in 90 minutes. Once iMow is installed, it will mow, charge and adapt its schedule all by itself. If the robot mower battery runs low or it starts to rain, the MI 422 will return itself to the docking station and, depending on how much of the lawn still needs to be cut, it will decide whether to charge itself quickly or slowly, helping to conserve power. Fitted with a robust mulching blade, the grass will be finely shredded, returning vital nutrients back into the soil. This also eliminates the need to dispose of any grass clippings.
The unit boasts 15 different cutting height settings, varying from 20mm-60mm so you can adjust it to suit your requirements.
The mower also has rain, motion and tilt sensors fitted to aide performance, along with a number of lawn edge settings to allow more frequency of edge mowing if required. It also features enhanced security settings, depending on the model, setting off a series of alarms if stolen or moved, alerting you by phone, app or audible alarm.
The mower weighs around 9 kilos and is driven by two rear wheels and two front caster wheels to aide balance and performance.
The double-sided mulching blades provide hard wearing performance and generally only need sharpenning or replacing once a year.
Demo day had finally arrived, with both Davids turning up to install the mower. Their first job was to inspect the lawn and measure its perimeter and area, draw up a map and ascertain what obstacles there were in the lawn - plus find the best place to locate the base station. The base plate needs to be on a flat area of the lawn to ensure there is enough room for the robotic mower to manoeuvre itself into the docking station.
The MI 422 does not have GPS tracking, rather it relies on a guide wire to be installed around the perimeter and relevant obstacles in the lawn. In Phil’s case a manhole cover needed to be isolated.
The next job was to find a suitable power source to power up the base station then start installing the perimeter cable wire. This low frequency wire is pegged down on the surface of the lawn allowing enough clearance from any perimeter obstacles such as walls, sheds, raised paving etc.
Once completed it was then a case of testing the mower which had been charged up ready to go. The LED control panel on the mower is very easy to use, with easy symbols to navigate through the various programmes on offer.
It was a case of entering the lawn dimensions and waiting for the robotic mower to offer a range of settings to suit our requirements. This information came back in activity time and mowing times that we could set into a weekly calendar.
We chose to enlist the robotic mower to run daily (seven days week) setting it to start mowing at 11.30am and mow for 20 minutes per day.
There are also manual override settings that you can use. Our first test was to see if it recognised the perimeter wire and negotiated the manhole cover without coming to a halt. I have to say I was impressed with its speed and quietness especially when in mowing mode.
Our last job was to set the height of cut and then leave it to run on its daily programme and monitor its behaviour for the next few weeks.
I managed to catch up with Philip a few weeks after the initial installation and was keen to find out his thoughts and whether the robotic mower was performing OK.
Philip was very keen to praise the mower in many ways, particularly its cutting ability. With the mower set to mow every morning at 11.30 it never misses a beat and wakes up and spends half an hour cutting the grass before returning to its docking station.
Phil also wanted to change the settings on the mower to ensure it cut around the edges of the lawn twice a week. After consulting the manual, he was soon able to reprogram the menu is easy to understand and follow. As for the perimeter wire, after two weeks of mowing he could not see a trace of it.
However, one of the biggest gains for Philip has been the fact that he no longer worries about relying on having to get someone in to come and mow his lawn. For a disabled person like Philip having a reliable robotic mower saves a lot of worry and time.
The Mower Shop has a wide selection of robotic mowers, including the Viking (Stihl) iMow and Robomows in a range of sizes. Whether your lawn is large or small, sparse or thick, The Mower Shop has a robotic mower to suit your needs. Feel free to visit their shop in West Haddon, Northamptonshire to see a free demonstration of a robotic mower in action.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Steve Bartle and Stihl / Viking for giving me the opportunity to test and write about these ground breaking robotic mowers. There is no doubt their popularity is booming and it will not be long before they become a dominant mowing device in both the domestic and professional sectors.