I’d heard about robot lawn mowers before, I’d seen them in controlled environments at demonstration days and the like, but not until I travelled to Sweden did I see them in the “real world” in people’s yards, out mowing the lawns. Is this the future of lawnmowing? Or is there another path for the Aussie homeowner?
Spending a few days in Sweden with the folks from Husqvarna introduced me to a many ares of innovation across their outdoor power equipment range. I see in them some great products, but perhaps more interesting I see a future where features that sit across different products today, will merge and create something very very cool.
The idea of a robot doing work for you around the home is not new. We’ve got robot vacuums in homes today, and the robot lawn mower has been around for over a decade. These automowers are not meant to go out once a fortnight and cut your grass, they are designed to be always on – doing daily work, continually trimming your lawn.
A light trim consistently creates a healthy lawn and an all year round well maintained look.
The problem for Australia is our environment and our yard configuration. How many homes do you know where there is a simple direct, flat path from the back lawn to the front – not many. So the need to move your mower around each day introduces a regular level of interaction that may seem more tiresome than just getting out the push mower every couple of weeks.
Then there is our environment. Bark falling, tree branches and twigs all over the lawn mean a robotic mower might have a harder time than it does in some other countries.
But the robotic mower is smart. And it’s those smarts that while you might not be buying a robot lawnmower in the future, might just end up helping you keep your mower in top shape.
As a company that is steeped in history around smelting metal, foundry’s and building their own engines – it’s hard to imaging a future where the petrol powered engine isn’t dominant for Husqvarna. The reality is, batteries are here, ready and making their way into all sorts of gear.
The Automower might be a fun little workhorse, but one thing it does have, and a technology Husqvarna has been mastering, is the battery. The Automower goes out for an hour and a half, mows, then returns to charge itself for 45 mins or so. Getting the battery technology right to ensure you get the longest life from the battery, while also getting the fastest possible charge.
Even in chainsaws Husqvarna has a range of battery-powered models which are starting to match it with their petrol powered siblings. Likewise in edge-trimmers and hedge trimmers – there’s a whole range now available which use an interchangeable battery for power.
Now while a battery-powered lawn-mower may not be new, it is likely something the average buyer would balk at. I mean – you get raw power from a petrol engine right? That’s the mentality that needs to change over time.
One of the biggest advantages of the battery-powered outdoor power gear is the noise. When you’re not actively using them – they are silent. A petrol chainsaw or edger is noisy when in idle – battery power means the thing is either on or off. Plus, electric motors introduce some new possibilities, like reverse direction – on an edger that’s really useful, ensuring you are throwing those clippings out into the right direction.
If it must be petrol, it does not mean it has to be hard to start. We tested a chainsaw which has a quick-start feature on it – basically as soon as you start to pull the rope to start it, the engine pre-fires to make the start-up immediate. We were actually challenged to NOT start it – and that was bloody hard.
Why this isn’t in every single model really comes down to two things. Price and pipeline. Products like chainsaws and edgers are produced on mass and the life-cycle for the model range has to be several years to return the overall dividend. Plus, in a competitive market there are cheap and nasty products out there which when you’re competing side by side mean that adding the even slight additional cost of this feature might mean it’s harder to sell in retail.
Regardless, the technology exists, and in-time we have to hope and assume that the mower of the future will be so easy to start that the memories of endless starting attempts of the years gone by will be distant.
Ok, so here’s where it gets really cool.
Husqvarna will this year launch a beta program for large landscape gardening type companies who have a fleet of gear like trimmers, edgers and mowers. Using a couple of simple bits of tech the management of a fleet takes on a very modern look.
Launching later this year in seven countries, including Australia, the open Beta trial of Husqvarna Fleet services will allow owners to see the usage of their gear in a whole new way.
Via an online dashboard you can see the idle time of each unit, the usage of it in low, medium and high rev ranges, and using that data Husqvarna can help you see where the men and women out in the field can improve their usage to prolong the life of the equipment.
That’s done via a small chip placed on the unit itself. That chip then pairs with a base station when back at the office and all the data is synchronised for online reporting.
Then throw in the user tag, a small low powered radio device which pairs with the equipment to help report on the actual operators own performance. Not just to show their use time and habits, but also for health and safety reporting with vibration reports by user and equipment.
All this is great, and there are already Aussie landscaping companies trialling it out.
But, it’s the application of this at the home consumer level where I think this really gets interesting exciting even.
Imagine you buy a lawn mower that when it rolls back into the garage or shed – synchronises with the cloud via your home WiFi network to keep a log of your usage time, petrol consumption, lawn mowed, meters pushed and goodness knows what else.
Why? Maintenance and efficiency.
You could receive alerts via a smartphone app or SMS as to when your mower is due for a service, you might even get prompted on a Friday while driving home that the mower is low on petrol to remind you to grab some and save you running around on Saturday Morning.
So – the future is?
Connectivity and Energy Efficiency. I’m not talking about going all “green” – that’s just a positive environmental side-effect.
I’m suggesting that while it’s not on the public road map for Husqvarna yet, I can’t imagine that in a research lab somewhere in Husqvarna – there aren’t a bunch of smart white-coat wearing people plotting a future where even the average home user can get intelligent reporting from a bit of equipment that just a few decades earlier was nothing more than a few wheels on a metal base, an engine and a blade.
The lawnmower of the future – be it robotic or good old push and walk behind – will help you manage your yard work even when it’s not in use. It’s a cool thing to think about.
Trevor Long traveled to Huskvarna, Sweden, as a guest of Husqvarna AB