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Leave the Mowing to the Bots

Why do the hard work yourself when a robot will graze your lawn?

spinner image Illustration of person lying in grass while robot lawn mower cuts grass around him; trees and basketball are there as well
Illustration by Kyle Hilton

Oh, the dread of summer Saturdays.

Here in steamy South Carolina, no matter how early I endeavor to cut the grass, a sweaty mess is the inevitable result. Not to mention, this chore only gets tougher as the years pass. I’ve come to the opinion that life’s too short to spend it pushing a loud, noxious machine up and down my little tract of land. If only I could sit back and let the mower do all the work.

I can? Wait, what?

For nearly two decades, many American households have used robots to vacuum — and in some cases, mop — the floors. But only now are self-guided lawn mowers emerging as the “it” tech tool to ease wear and tear on our bones and joints. Bonus: Because a robot doesn’t get tired — as I do — it takes a pass across the plot daily, keeping the mass of green a uniform length and keeping the homeowners association off my back over overgrown blades.

Meet Larry. That’s the name I gave the lawnbot I bought. (This one is manufactured by Worx; other popular manufacturers are Greenworks, Husqvarna and Gardena.) Working with Larry is a bit different from doing this job myself. First off, of course: I don’t have to do the job myself. Nor do I have to pay a neighbor kid to come over and perform mediocre work. Larry chugs along while I take a load off. Second, he’s remarkably quiet. We’ve all been annoyed by the roar of a traditional mower waking us up early on a weekend morning. Now, I’m the good neighbor. Larry can go about his business anytime — day or night — without disturbing the rest of the street.

spinner image Lawnbot on the grass
This is Larry the lawnbot, named by owner Chris Morris.
Gavin McIntyre

What of the dangers? Cleaning floors is one thing, but a robot wielding sharp blades? Are we inviting doom? The short answer is no. If someone passes by and is foolish enough to pick up the mower in operation, it instantly shuts down. Should someone seek to abscond with the device, it locks up and won’t start again until the proper passcode is entered.

It’s important to note that there are two types of robot mowers: those that operate within a boundary wire and those that don’t require a physical pen. It’s probably best to avoid boundary-wire models. The idea was to ensure that the mower wouldn’t move past a designated area. But it takes hours to set up the perimeter, and the wire will inevitably get damaged at some point, requiring you to locate the problem and splice the wire back together. Most manufacturers are moving away from using boundary wire in newer models, as advanced technology allows your yard to be mapped without it. Smartphone apps allow for proper device management.

Another difference between human and robot is cutting patterns. Like anyone who has pushed a mower, I would accomplish the task with methodical back-and-forth movement and glory afterward in my straight lines. Larry prefers to meander the yard in a random pattern, but one that always results in a good cut. He’s saving me work, so I don’t micromanage. When Larry encounters a perimeter, he turns to avoid it. I set up magnetic boundaries around flower beds and such to train him not to mow there. Pets are another issue, although a small one. They might be curious at first, but my dog has learned to ignore and avoid this mechanical meanderer.

How does the robot empty the bag? It doesn’t; it mulches the grass instead. Because it cuts daily, there’s never any need to worry about excess clippings. It’s kind of like shaving every day versus getting intermittent haircuts. Unless it’s raining. In that case, the mower detects water and returns to its charging station.

Here’s the thing: A robot mower may be a workhorse and never complain about it, but all that work will cost you. Prices range from $700 (for the boundary-wire models) to $1,500 or even up to $2,500. That’s multiple times the cost of a basic Toro or Cub Cadet, although comparable to a lawn tractor.

There are a few neighbors who might scoff at all this, thinking I’m lazy, but I’m willing to suffer their judgment, especially for my health. Avoiding exertion in extreme heat is increasingly important as I get older. I do get the benefits of fresh air from time to time; Larry is similar to a human lawn service in that his work isn’t perfect. I still need to put in a bit of manual labor to get a clean edge along sidewalks. That just takes a few minutes, though. Then I’m free to go about enjoying my weekend, while those scornful neighbors glare at me and soak through another shirt.


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