The Robotic lawnmower... Just a smart home toy, or practical time saver?
When we think of home automation it's usually associated with indoors (security, heating, lighting etc), but at Vesternet we’ve made a conscious effort recently to push things outside. We’re rolling out smart irrigation systems and some other nice new gardening products, but when it came to testing out Robomow I was first to volunteer for a change!
We moved house last last September and with all focus on the inside for some renovation & more winter based smart home products like heating, I completely batted away any thought of the garden until this summer - which then happened to come around really fast. So here we are with Robomow running for the past few weeks - let's share all on my findings.
Why get a Robomow?
Firstly, what’s a robotic mower? Well clearly its a machine that cuts the grass, whilst you do anything else you fancy (although ironically, for the first few days, you’ll probably end up just watching it cut the grass instead of making better use of your free time - its strangely mesmerizing...)
It truly does epitomise the spirit behind an automated home, and this little monster - once it gets going and learns your garden layout - will save you countless hours in its lifetime. I won’t go into all the technical benefits, but there’s a nice little animation here which explores the key features of Robomow in comparison to others.
And why have you not really considered a robotic mower before?
Well, that's a good point, and there’s a few reasons I’m told by Robomow themselves - who happen to own a huge percentage of their market. Firstly, most people buy a lawnmower from a gardening / machinery shop and sales assistants are predominantly used to offering a standard lawnmower or a seated one, thus the offer of a robotic version is almost out the game during the sales process. Secondly, a lot of Brits don’t mind mowing the lawn (we're the odd nation in this respect), so the robotic mower market here is quite small in comparison to, say Germany or USA, where robots hold around a 30% market share. You don’t see them much in use, and so don't really get considered by most people.
I can believe this… although, it doesn’t make much sense if you’re inclined towards automation in general, and also value your time. Indeed, in contrast to the automation happening inside my home for the benefit of the family, Robomow is really my first foray outside and in full display of the neighbours…
As we’ll see, it does take a little setup, during which I took a constant barrage from the wife about how much of a waste of time this would turn out to be, and annoyingly pointing to each neighbour as a reference point to the ease at which they mowed. However, I did laugh last and it's with a strange sense of pride I see my mower whizzing around the garden all by itself, whilst knowing that every other mower nearby is being pushed or driven along.... manually!
And this is really the main reason you’ll buy one. I asked Robomow, having sold loads over the years, in their words what really resonates with customers and they responded with ‘time, convenience & quality’. You will save a ton of time, and completely remove a regular chore, along with the garden looking better, with Robomow doing everything for you to create an immaculate lawn without you lifting a finger. Having lived with it for some time now I honestly can't argue with that!
Chez Bell meets Robomow
So, onto the setup. Admittedly, before getting started, I imagined opening the box, powering it up and letting it simply take off and learn the lay of the land all by itself. Now I know that was silly and of course you have to give it some parameters to work from.
Here’s the Vine unboxing - you’ll see the beast itself (this is the RC308 model), along with power pack, perimeter wire, pegs and a few other bits & bobs needed during the setup:
I did look through the quickstart manual but then opted to follow this setup video which was hugely helpful in getting everything clear in my head about the process (it shows a different model but same setup applies to all).
So if you chose not to watch that video above, then in a nutshell you have to map out the perimeter of your garden to tell it the boundaries to work from. This is done using some special wire which has waterproof connectors. There’s a huge roll provided and you start out by using a little ruler provided to measure the distance from the lawn edge.
Run it all the way around using loads of little pegs (you get 5 packs with this model, and presumably more with bigger versions since my model is for gardens up to 800 sq/ft). You have to keep it quite loose to start with - meaning put a peg every few meters - and then add more once you're certain the wire is positioned absolutely right following a test lap.
When you’ve come full circle back to the starting point, simply cut the wire and connect it up into one big loop. This connector then plugs into the base station.
I got this wrong first time, having pointed the base station backwards - I was told by the very helpful guys at Robomow that everything should run anti-clockwise. Hence you have to point the base station ‘launchpad’ so the mower can approach from the left and hop onto the charging station automatically. So this fix was quite simple, I just took out the metal stakes from the base station, turned it round and re-positioned the wire a bit.
The power unit is then plugged in (we already have a charge point outside), and connected to the base station. Then you’re ready to roll…
Firstly, don’t forget to set the optimal grass cutting height. There’s a little screw type thing underneath with settings from 15 to 90. With 15 being the lowest cut, I just went straight for that but ran into trouble (explained later), given most lawns should be set around the middle ground of 55 for optimal performance.
Clearly there’s no power in her yet (it does oddly feel like having a pet after a while and my wife insisted it was female, although we're yet to formally name her), so you simply push it into the two power rods on the base station to start charging - which took about 90 mins first time.
Now you have to refer back to the manual as the on-board screen relies heavily on a complex array of code numbers and hieroglyph type messages - I swear when it powers up to start mowing it has the same animation that appears on the Predator's arm control panel when he’s about to launch a rocket in the movie :). A few basic settings tell it the date & time (it won’t run automatically at night or on Sundays), as well as the approximate size of the lawn, and then it's off…
The first thing Robomow does is check its surroundings, so she’ll go once around the perimeter to get the size of the task at hand. Once this has been all checked out she then goes off on her regular cycles. (Excuse my toddler babbling in the background and trying to kill the mower - this is the best edit I could get during this one time setup)...
Unlike other robotic mowers which rely on you telling them when to kick into action, Robomow uses its own algorithm, taking into account the size of the lawn, the height you want it kept and even the weather since it has a rain sensor which lets it work only when the ground is dry. Taking all these things into account it’ll just run itself twice a week in most cases to keep everything in order.
It does the borders once every 3 cycles, and note that over the first week you’ll see an ever decreasing number of patches. This is because it goes back and forth zigzagging everywhere in a trial and error type attack. Only near the end of the first week will it have caught everything, at which points its a maintenance task having scoped out the entire area.
A few points that tripped me up - firstly you can never use enough pegs. Loads are provided and if you see any of the perimeter wire sticking up then put a peg in or it can get tangled in the mower.
Secondly, as mentioned above - my garden was fairly unkempt by the previous owners and having not done any landscaping yet, there’s a fair number of bumps and even the remanence of an old pond (which Robomow had a habit of heading straight towards in our early days together!). The mistake I made was setting the cutting height too low, thus when it tackles a dip, it still attempts to cut the grass short and so gets stuck because it can’t quite reach. Cranking it up to the middle height solved all this.
There’s also an Apple & Android app with which you can do loads of things, not least of all using your phone as a handheld remote to manually control it!
However, I didn’t actually use this much as the automation is what I found most appealing, but you can read more about the app features here (and similarly you can get an actual Robomow remote control too along with other accessories).
In the end you’ve guessed that I love our Robomow. It's now a familiar and welcomed sound to hear the motor crank up in the background and see her chugging off like a little trooper to create our perfect lawn (well, as mentioned before its not yet perfect due to the previous homeowners groundsmanship, but that's no fault of Robomow, who's impressing more day by day).
So, finally onto the price as I know you already want one. You're thinking is it worth it for the time it takes me to do this each week. Only you can answer that, but for me its a yes. We all love automation to make our lives easier and this is a little cherry on your smart home cake. Aside from saving you time & making life easier, it's also one of the coolest gadgets I own and everyone is envious when they see it in action.
This took me some time to test & write up, and I'd love to hear your feedback. And... if you drop me a direct email at firstname.lastname@example.org I can help make your decision that much easier with a very special (and huge) discount offer for this weekend on all Robomow's, which means you can kick back, relax with a beer and let the gardening take care of itself this summer. Email me and I'll reveal all...Détendez-vous cet été et profiter du football !