Power Equipment Australasia

ROBOTICS Robotic mowers have enjoyed popularity in domestic markets for years. Now, commercial operators are also about to embrace robotic mowers in a big way. JOHN POWER talks to Jason Carter from Robot Lawn Mowers Australia about the imminent jump in robot sales in the commercial mowing scene… Rise of the Machines Robotic Mowers Set for Massive Growth in Commercial Sector Make no mistake: robotic mowers are about to turn conventional mowing activity on its head in the commercial sector. Soon, small robotic mowers will be commonplace in schools, colleges, sporting grounds, golf courses, and similar broadacre spaces. Over the last decade, robotic mowers have been restricted mainly to small domestic holdings and acreage properties, where owners have been keen to sidestep mowing chores, reduce emissions, and alleviate noise by using battery-based technologies. While these domestic devices have matured significantly in terms of tough performance, range, and reliability, their ‘Achilles heel’ has always been their dependence on underground wires to define operating boundaries. This kind of wired infrastructure poses few difficulties on small lifestyle properties; however, commercial operators have been unwilling to accept the high costs and logistical challenges of installing wires around commercial-scale lawn areas. Wires have also been regarded as problematic in manicured surfaces such as specialist sporting arenas, which are subject to deep scarification and coring maintenance regimes. All those physical constraints are about to vanish, according to Queensland-based Jason Carter, Director of Robot Lawn Mowers Australia, due to very recent advances in wireless operating systems. This technology allows commercial property managers to program robotic mowers and outline operating areas using satellites: no more buried wires. According to Jason, current customer ratios of 50% domestic, 30% acreage, and 20% commercial (including less than 5% large playing surfaces) are on the verge of being overturned thanks to an expected surge in GPS-based commercial mowing activity. “GPS RTK (real-time kinematic) is a technology that has been around for decades in applications like laser graders on the side of the highway, or laser grading on tractors in paddocks, but it’s never been cheap enough to put inside a robot [mower],” Jason explains. “It was cost-prohibitive to the extent you would have been looking at $50,000–$70,000 robots that were still only capable of mowing about 4000m2, whereas now we have $4,000 robots that are capable of mowing 10,000m2; we’ve got $20,000 robots that are capable of mowing 36,000m2, so the dollar-per-square-metre rate is starting to get a lot lower.” GPS RTK-guided robotic mowers, Jason continues, use signals from at least 10 satellites simultaneously to provide extremely precise positional guidance. This technology is the cornerstone of broadacre robotic mowing designed to deliver hassle-free, automated service without the need for traditional heavy-duty ride-on mowers or tractormounted mowing decks. Undoubtedly, the incorporation of satellite-positioning systems into highquality robotic mowers is a game changer. And the commercial market, according to Jason, is waking up to the social and financial advantages of quieter, neighbour-friendlier mowing systems that also dispense with heavy labour and fuel costs. NOT ALL ROBOTS ARE EQUAL An upswing in the commercial use of robotic mowers, however, must go hand in hand with client education, Jason advises, so users get the right robotic units to suit their specific applications. “Advice, advice, advice,” he suggests, should be the starting mantra behind any purchase. Too many customers, he warns, buy robotic mowers (particularly online) based on marketing razzamatazz rather than local advice from qualified experts. “I was the first independent robotic mower retailer in Australia, so I’ve seen the market evolve significantly since starting eight years ago,” he says, noting personal annual business growth of 100% for the first five years, and 50% annual growth over the past three years during the pandemic era. Over this time, Jason says he has observed a wave of rapid converts to the robotic mower industry… particularly