Israeli lawn-mowing robot makes the cut

Wouldn’t you like to lie back on a lounge chair with a cool drink while your lawn mower cuts the grass by itself? Semi-automated lawn mowers have been in existence for years, but never with the autonomous qualities of the …

Wouldn’t you like to lie back on a lounge chair with a cool drink while your lawn mower cuts the grass by itself?

Semi-automated lawn mowers have been in existence for years, but never with the autonomous qualities of the Robowmow RL1000 – developed by Israeli company Friendly Robotics. It really is a ‘lawn robot’.

It may be ironic that Israel – where a much smaller percentage of residents live in residences with lawns than in the US – would be inventing a robotic lawn mower, but for Friendly Robotics CEO Udi Peless, it was a personal mission.

Ten years ago, he was one of those minority of Israelis with a lawn.

“I hated mowing the yard,” the former Israeli air force pilot told ISRAEL21c.

Already a successful businessman in 1995, Peless was challenged by his wife who said ‘why don’t you just make a machine that does it for you?’

Peless joined forces with friend and former army colleague Shai Abramson to launch Friendly Machines in 1995 which evolved into Friendly Robotics.

“We joined our visions of automating devices used around the house – particularly the lawn mower,” said Peless.

The first automatic mower they developed – called the Lawnkeeper – was bulky and unattractive, but when demonstrated, cut about 200 square feet of grass without assistance. Through continual upgrades, Friendly Robotics has honed the process, arriving at the advanced Robomow RL1000.

At a cost of $1,800, the Robomow is sold in more than two dozen countries, with the bulk of sales in the US. According to Peless, the only work the consumer has to do is a one time installation of a cable around the perimeter of the garden, a cable which tells the robot where to stop mowing the lawn. The cable itself can even be buried in the ground – thus making it completely invisible.

The RL1000 has sensors which allows it to bypass obstacles on the lawn, and is equipped with a small alarm that informs those in the vicinity that it’s about to start its operation in five minutes. The Robomow cuts the lawn to a fine powder which in turn it disperses as a fertilizer back onto the soil.

A recent consumer column in The Washington Post described how the Robowmow works:

“When switched on, the Robomower reads a signal from the wire and registers the boundaries of the yard. Then it starts moving in a roughly triangular pattern, changing directions when it reaches the perimeter wire or bumps into a tree, a birdbath, a stray football left behind by neighborhood kids – until every square foot of the lawn has been, somewhat haphazardly, cut. Those partial to tidy straight mow marks may not be satisfied.

Because its movement is basically mindless and random, the Robomower can take two to three times longer than would a human being. But that’s time the owner can spend doing something other than panting and wheezing beneath a hot sun.”

To make things run even more efficiently, the Robowmow comes equipped with a docking station and battery recharger. An added feature of the RL1000 over its earlier incarnations is the addition of a timer that can be preset. When the pre-ordained time arrives, it will dislodge from the docking station – with a blast of bugle and drums fanfare – and start cutting. When the batteries run low, the RL 1000 is programmed to roll back to the docking station for quick recharge, and then resume cutting until the job is completed.

“We have a unique technology with two features that sets it apart from our competitors,” said Peless. “We’re using a powerful cutting system – which delivers a quality of cut similar or even better than a regular lawn mower. Others use light platforms with weak cutting power. And secondly, we have unsurpassed technology for the systematic coverage of the lawn area, whereas our competitors tend to be random.”

Other features that make the 80-pound machine user friendly include a theft-deterrent
four-digit code, a quiet engine which enables it to run at night without annoying nearby neighbors, adjustable blade settings, and slope capabilities of up to 15 degrees.

According to Ames Tiedeman of Systems Trading Corp., the Robomower’s North American distributor, most of Robomower sales in the US are via the Internet through the sites www.probotics.com and www.robomower.us.

“The first person who is going to buy it is the techno-geek,” Tiedeman told The Washington Post, “somebody who just wants something new. The second person is going to be somebody who just doesn’t like to mow the lawn – who detests the concept. And the third person is going to be somebody who used to mow their lawn, but can’t any longer, maybe because of their age or their health.”

“It’s interesting that this lawn mowing technology came out of Israel where there aren’t that many big lawns. But we do have a niche market here – with more than 1,000 customers,” said Peless.

Peless said that new versions of the Robomower are constantly being worked on, but refused to divulge what groundbreaking features will be on future models. However, he did announce that Friendly Robotics has gotten even friendlier to the house cleaner by developing a vacuum cleaner robot under the name of Friendly Vac, which can move around the house, avoid obstacles and clean the floor.

Friendly Robotics mission is to ‘liberate people from routine chores such as cleaning the home and mowing the lawn, thus making life more convenient and freeing valuable time for more enjoying activities.’

Just turn on the mower, and drink to that.

(Iddo Gennuth of IsraCast contributed to this report.)

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