Robomow Rl1000When we moved into a bigger house last November, we needed a new lawn mower. We’re on just under an acre, and our old electric push-mower wasn’t going to manage it. With the cold weather already here in Wisconsin, I wouldn’t have to worry about it until the spring, but the day would some soon.

On Black Friday, I spotted a great deal on a robotic lawnmower on For under $1,000, I could pick up a top-of-the-line mower that would cut the grass for me—and transform cutting the lawn from a chore into a techy project, something far more in my vein.

So I bought myself a Robomow RL1000 from Friendly Robotics. It came a week or two later, after the snows had already started to fall, so it sat in a box for months, waiting for its chance to get working.

A few weeks ago, spring finally hit this part of the world, and I opened the two big boxes up. In one, I found the machine itself, and in the other sat its charging station. I read the directions, scoured the internet for help, and set to work.
It’s a mulching mower, so I don’t have to worry about the clippings and such. Also, it’s electric, so it’s better for the environment. It only costs about $10/year to keep it running. It’s smart enough to recharge itself when it’s running out of power, and it even has a rain sensor to keep it from cutting the grass when it’s too wet.

Best of all, it’s safe. It features 360° bumpers to let it know if it hits something. Its three, small blades spin at 5400 rpm, faster than traditional mowers, but they stop in under a second if the edge of the mower is lifted as little as an inch. In the history of the company, no one has been hurt by a Robomower, compared to the tens of thousands of accidents with regular mowers every year.
To get the Robomower set up, you have to run a low-voltage wire all the way around the yard. It uses this to figure out its limits, and it will not run by itself if it’s not within the wire’s loop. This is the worst part of the setup.

I spent two days walking around the perimeter of the land on my knees, unspooling wire and staking it to the ground. Once it was all set up, I attached the wire to the charging station (also known as the dock), plugged it all in, and fired the robot up.

I split the yard into two zones and implemented a hack so that the machine could mow them separately and automatically. In theory, the Robomower goes out, mows a zone until it runs out of power (after about 2.5-4 hours). Then it finds the nearest perimeter and follows it until it reaches the dock. It spends the next 20 hours charging itself and then is all set to head out again.

Mostly this works well, although I haven’t gotten to try the automatic programming out yet. The mower uses the wire to figure out the edges of a zone, and then it just scans over the area in between, like a child scribbling with a crayon. This means it leaves behind enough untouched areas that it looks like a drunk billy goat has been at work.

Like with that child, though, if you give the Robomower enough time, it eventually covers every bit. If you run it every day, alternating zones, it should do a good job of keeping the grass at a reasonable level. Of course, the first mow of the season is always a fight against long grass, so it’s an uphill battle.

To even the odds, I picked up a second battery and a rapid charger. Now I can run the machine three or four times a day, and the lawn looks great. Once I get everything properly knocked down, I’m going to set the programming up and let the machine at it.

Overall, I’m thrilled with the Robomower. Although set-up was a hassle, it’s now handling the bulk of the lawn work for me. I sat out on the patio and barbecued some bratwurst yesterday while watching it groom my yard. That’s good eating.