Robotic Lawn Mowers Making Summer Chores Easier

Sep 3, 2019

"Boink," the robotic lawn mower.
Credit Annacaroline Caruso

With summer weather comes a long list of landscaping chores like watering flowers, pulling weeds…..and mowing the lawn. A new technology may make that chore just a little bit easier.

John Piller may be one of the few people in Granger to own a robotic lawn mower. Think Roomba, but for your lawn. He came across the tech while visiting Germany a few years ago and was interested right away.

“It seemed like a good way to take care of not having to mow the front lawn,” Piller said.

Piller named his robot Boink after a Calvin and Hobbes book, Scientific Progress Goes Boink.

Before returning to Germany this summer for a month-long trip, Piller set Boink to cut his grass every day. When he returned, his lawn--and it’s mowing robot had done just fine.

Piller plans to start a business next summer renting out and installing the mowers for customers.

A wire needs to be buried around the perimeter of the yard so the robot knows it’s boundaries. It can also be set to cut every day so the grass never gets long enough that the clippings need to be bagged.

“And that’s the cool part about it being electric," Piller said. "You can set it to run from midnight to four in the morning and your grass is always mowed and your neighbors are never complaining about noise.”

The robot also returns to a charging base when its battery runs low.

So how much does something like this cost? The price depends on how many acres the robot needs to cut but the average is about 1,200 dollars -- as much as a lawn tractor.

But Piller says the robotic lawn mower can save money in other ways.

“Now I’m not putting gas in it. I’m not putting oil in it. I just have to check the blades and make sure they’re good and that's really the only part I have to fix. ”

That environmentally friendly aspect of robotic lawn mowers is one reason why South Bend sees a future for them on the workforce.

Aaron Perri is the Executive Director of South Bend Venues Parks and Arts. He said the robots could help create spaces that benefit the City in lots of ways.

“We know when a property is well maintained, it’s worth more," Perri said. "We know that it will help detract crime because people are taking care of the space and keeping an eye on it opposed to a place that looks overgrown and unkempt that might attract illicit activity or illegal activity. We know that people are more likely to use our trails and paths and sidewalks and parks when they’re well maintained and well kept and so that means there’s a healthier community.”

Perri said new technology can be helpful for workers too.

“That stuff makes for a more efficient job but in a lot of ways it makes it safer for the workforce,” he said.

 It wouldn’t be the first time the City used technology for routine tasks. Perri says it wasn’t long ago that South Bend got automated transactions at parking garages and robotic trash truck arms to pick up garbage bins.

He says those jobs weren’t lost, just relocated.

“There’s very little evidence that automation over the course of history has ever replaced jobs. There’s more jobs today than there ever has been in the course of history. It might replace tasks, but it doesn’t replace jobs,” Perri said.

But he says there’re benefits of having real people in the parks that you can’t get with robots, like added safety.

“Our staff is in and out of there. They’re not only mowing the lawns. They’re picking up trash. They’re inspecting the playgrounds. They’re serving as a frontline hospitality ambassador for the community helping answer questions and otherwise making sure these parks are safe places for people to enjoy,” perri said.

And that’s something some of the park maintenance workers can agree with.

 John Nowak has worked for South Bend Venues Parks and Arts for nearly 20 years. He says a robot mower will miss details he could easily catch.

“If you have a perfect lawn with no bumps, robots could do it, but you have things that move on you and sometimes there's ruts and holes and you never know what you’re going to get into," Nowak said.

Nowak also thinks it couldn’t handle some of the bigger jobs he can take care of with his lawn tractor.

“Like today, I’m out mowing a field that gets cut once a year. I really doubt that it’s going to last long enough to do this,” he said. Nowak isn’t completely opposed to having a robot as a co-worker someday but for now - he’s happy taking care of South Bend parks with his team - of humans.