With robotic lawn mowers continuing to grow in popularity in the green industry, many professional landscapers find themselves wondering if they should incorporate these machines into their business operations.
Take a look at what robotics experts say the benefits of these machines are, as well as where they hope to see the robotic mower industry go over the next few years.
Positives and negatives
The nationwide labor shortage that the green industry has faced for years now is, unfortunately, not letting up, which means that more landscapers are in need of reliable means to get their jobs done.
Kris Kiser, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), says the initial hesitancy surrounding robotic mowers has almost completely vanished because the more people understand the products, the more complaints dissipate.
In his opinion, robots are quickly becoming a viable source of supplemental labor for lawn mowing jobs, and he recommends more companies take time to investigate whether or not these machines have a place in their operations.
Due to their low noise level and low maintenance requirements, Kiser says robotic mowers have also become increasingly popular for use around universities, hospitals, nursing homes, motels and similar establishments.
Logan Fahey, CEO of Robin Autopilot, says more landscaping companies were hesitant to jump on board the robotic mower train last year, but now they are seeing that it could be a viable source for supplemental labor.
Fahey notes there are also many landscapers utilizing their fleet management systems to have numerous robotic mowers operating via one platform.
Steven Uljua, product manager for robotics with Husqvarna, says the company recently performed a survey and found that 80 percent of their robotic mower customers love their machines and have no complaints.
“When I got the survey, it was very eye-opening that these people are recommending it to their friends,” says Uljua. “Nobody’s wanting to get rid of this machine. I think it becomes a way of life and I think it becomes a member of the family or a member of the crew, and there’s an attachment to it.”
Repairs, maintenance and cut consistency
Fahey says repairs and maintenance are still simple overall on all units, and because of this, most things can be replaced in five to 10 minutes if there’s an issue.
Fahey adds that most manufacturers have the ability to push out updates from the Cloud now, so they’re getting to the point where they don’t even have to send out technicians as much for that kind of work.
In terms of getting a consistent cut, experts agree that the majority of customers say that aspect of the robotic mowers is a favorite. Because the lawn is cut so frequently, the grass always looks uniform and stays healthier.
Fahey adds that there is an environmentally conscious aspect to these mowers because they eliminate the need for gas mowers on a property. Fahey says these mowers also bring the extra benefit of reliability with their ability to run 24/7 and even after a rainy day.
In his time working with robotic mowers, Fahey says the main complaints he’s heard are that these mowers do not leave lawn stripes and that the return to base feature sometimes fails.
In his experience, Fahey says when the mowers do get stuck somewhere on the property, most of the time it’s due to an install-related issue. When this mower technology first boomed, Fahey says many installers were unfamiliar with the process, which led to some mistakes. This, he says, left a bad taste in the mouths of many customers, but as installation training improved, the issues in the field have dropped.
As for the lawn stripes, Fahey says he “had to remind customers that the lines will be gone in two days, so is it really worth it?”
The future of robotics
With more brands breaking into the robotic mower market every day, Kiser believes this is a definite sign that these machines are here to stay and that they will only continue to grow.
Fahey believes it’s pretty common for the landscaping sector to be a few years behind on adopting futuristic practices, as he says it also took a while for companies to start using electric machines and working for eco-friendliness. He thinks it will be the same for robotics.
Fahey says there’s no denying that robotics is going to gain in popularity, and for now, he thinks manufacturers are waiting to see what’s best since everyone believes there will be a different timeline for how fast they take off.
In terms of wireless installs, Fahey thinks it could become a reality and be more prevalent in the next two years.
“I think we’re still a bit far off from it being mainstream, but I think it’s going to work for a small segment of US residential lawns,” says Fahey. “Ultimately, that’s where the industry’s going. I think for the first time this year, you’ll see at least one or maybe two products released that have the technology. Then I think it’ll take another two to three years for that technology to really come to fruition.”
Brian Manke, product manager for robotic mowers with Stihl, says the possibility for wireless installs is very real right now, but due to the price tag that would accompany it, he’s doubtful if customers would be on board with it just yet.
“When you go to a wireless system, it’s not nearly as simple as people think,” says Manke. “You need to be accurate within, basically, an inch, and that’s a whole different realm of precision. There’s no doubt that that day is going to come; it’s just a question of when is the technology going to become affordable enough?”
Manke says he’s noticed more landscape architects and home builders taking robotic mowers into consideration when designing landscape and home plans, which tells him that these machines are catching on both within and outside of the green industry.
With net zero and off grid homes growing in popularity, Manke says homeowners don’t want to see landscapers come into those spaces using gas-powered equipment that will throw off the whole sustainable and green aspect of the space, and robotic mowers could be the perfect fit for those homes.
For those still hesitant about committing to these machines, Uljua says don’t jump all in at first, but be open to the idea.
“I don’t mean disrespect because a lot of times I’m old school, too, but I know a lot of our dealers and landscapers out there that say this way has worked for me for 10 years, so I’m going to stick with what I know,” says Uljua. “The problem with that thinking is if you don’t adapt and move forward, your neighbor or the guy down the street you’re competing against will. Eventually, you start losing your customers because they’ll have better technology and you’ll have to play catch up.”
He recommends starting with just one mower on one property and going from there. Or, he says, you could even start by using one at your own house to see whether it’s really worth it for your customers. This way, you have first-hand knowledge and experience to back up your claims.
“The thing is, everybody knows that this is the future,” says Uljua. “The proof is in the pudding, and we’re not afraid to prove ourselves.”