People are weird. This is something that I have long ago accepted, but it’s a point that is just underscored by the fact that some of the first robots we have built for use at home are also equipped with high-speed spinning blades.
Of course, that’s really the only way to build a lawn mower, but there is a bit of irony to it, given the fears that people have dreamt up about robots over the years.
I took the liberty of reviewing some of the best-selling robotic lawn mowers available online today and although there were quite a few good ones, the whole market is still a little rough around the edges. So if you don’t find one that you like among my selection you can use this buyer’s guide to help you make a good decision when hunting for your garden helper.
The first and most important thing that you have to consider is obvious, but somehow often overlooked. The size of your yard is a prime consideration. All mowers are not made equal and do not have the same battery endurance. They are designed to mow up to a specific limit and no more. Pay attention to how the maker has calculated this as well. Some indicate the capacity as how much it can mow on one charge while others add together multiple “zones” that are independently mowed with a charge between each.
Also keep in mind that the size of the yard a mower is designed for is calculated based on a flat and square lawn. If your lawn is very oddly shaped or has lots of undulation it may require more endurance to mow and therefore you should aim for a machine with a rating higher than you need at a minimum.
Up and Over
If you have a garden with steep banks you need to make sure that your prospective robot buddy has enough oomph to make it up and over them. Usually the manufacturer will clearly state the steepness a mower can handle. Generally you’ll see between twenty and twenty-five degrees, but some of the most powerful machines can handle as much as forty-five degrees of incline.
One advantage of an electric mower is that it can be very quiet. But a robot mower is still a machine that will make some noise. In this arena some are better than others, if you have to mow in an area where noise is a problem or want to schedule mowing for the night time, then make sure you get a model with a low noise rating designed for that purpose.
Kids, pets, and clumsy adults all run the risk of getting into unplanned and inappropriate contact with your robot mower. So it is worth looking for a machine that has the kinds of safety features that will make sure Fluffy, Billy, and your slow Uncle Jack keep their toes attached.
Robot lawn mowers are very expensive pieces of equipment and, by design, are unattended during operation when they are out in the open. So it is important that your new and expensive servant should have some sort of anti-theft mechanism.
Make sure that you can set the sorts of schedules that you need and that you can select cutting patterns or indicate to the machine how it should learn the layout of your yard. If you have a very complex yard you may want to make sure that you get a model that uses guide wires, so you can indicate to the robot exactly how it should navigate tricky and narrow passages. Unfortunately the current generation of robots are just too dumb to figure this out on their own.
Consider how you will operate the robot. Are the onboard controls clear and easy to understand? It can be very convenient to have a remote controller or, even better, wireless connectivity that lets you operate and program the robot by using an app on your phone and tablet.
It is important that you look for a mower that you will be comfortable operating. Unfortunately most manufacturers have no way of indicating this in a product description, but in the age of YouTube it should be easy enough to find a video of someone working the controls.
Almost all the robotic lawn mowers you’ll encounter are electric, meaning they run off batteries. There are two types of battery technology that you’ll find – the mower will either use lead acid batteries or lithium ion batteries. Lead acid batteries are the same type of batteries your car uses. They are heavy and don’t carry that much power, but they are relatively safe and stable. Lithium ion batteries are much more energy dense and have several other advantages that make them better suited to robotic applications like this. Lead acid has therefore fallen out of fashion, but you may still see some lead-acid units on the market. Unless you have a very specific reason to do so, it is usually better to go with the lithium tech.
Although a robotic lawnmower is a fancy and expensive technology item, it is still an electromechanical machine that will eventually need to be serviced either by you or by the manufacturer. Therefore it is important to find out if there is a service center near you or if it is easy for you to service yourself.
You should also make sure that there is a ready supply of parts such as replacement blades, wheels, or (believe me) guide wire.
Even the cheapest robotic vacuum cleaner is pretty expensive. You aren’t likely to see one not on special for less than $1000, but it is very important that you do not use price as your main judgement of quality! This is actually not a very big market and there aren’t that many products out there, which means that often an older and possibly inferior model may in fact still be more expensive than a newer, better-quality one.
Cutting It Close
Buying a robot to cut your grass is a pretty big investment. So it is doubly important that you think your choice over carefully before making a final decision. Don’t forget that I have reviewed quite a few machines already so head there to get some opinions on what’s available.