I went out & bought a robot lawnmower (the RoboMower, see www.friendlymachines.com). I've no idea what made me want one, I hadn't seen any advertisements and had I only read one review about it almost a year ago, but from out of the blue I got it in my head that I had to get one! What follows is my experience.

Monday, I decided I had to have a robot lawnmower, so off to the web to find one. There are only a few options. The RoboMower, which retails for $499 and the {Husqvarna} which costs about $2,500. Now, the expensive one drives itself to the recharging section when needed, but other than that I didn't see much difference. While looking around, I found two things of interest: a review in the San Jose Mercury News by Mike Langberg (which I'll get to later) and a local dealer (the Tool Crib in Aptos, CA).

Tuesday I called the Tool Crib. Yep, they have one available.

Wednesday I went out to get it. The box is almost too big for my car, and it's really heavy! Probably close to 90lbs. Once home, the real work begins.

The Yard

Our yard is probably the perfect place for the RoboMower. It is an oval, roughly 29' on the long axis, and 25' on the short one, and completely clear. The RoboMower requires that no angles are smaller than 90 degrees, and any obstructions (for example, trees) are at least 5' from the perimeter wire.

The one bit of the lawn that's odd is it sits about an inch above the remainder of the yard which is landscaped with plants & such.

Setting Up

The robot knows its boundaries via a small low voltage wire that loops around the perimeter. It follows with the middle of the device over the wire, so the wire must be about a foot from the actual perimeter. Luckily, it comes with a quick measuring tool. The process of setting it up is: lay the wire into roughly the shape you need, then secure it to the ground with the provided pegs. These are 3-4'' long with two sets of barbs, so once set they do not come out easily.

OK, mistake number one: the measuring tool has two main marks, one used when the perimeter butts up against an object, and another when the perimeter ends at something like a flowerbed. It also has more markings that appear to be related to cut-height (since they're labeled, 1'', 2'', 3'', etc.) So, I figure I'm going to keep the lawn around 2'' and used that mark. Apparently, that's not what the mark is for, so I had to dig up all of the stakes & replant them.

First Run

For some reason, the mower needs to know where it is and to calibrate itself. Now, it seems to me all it need to know is where it is in relation to the guide wire but no, it goes through an elaborate calibration process where it spins around a couple of times & displays a bunch of meaningless numbers. There's a note in the instruction manual that if it is moved more than 200 miles it will need to be recalibrated.

Once the calibration is done, running this little beast is easy -- move it into the yard and press ``go.'' When it looks like it's done, return it to the recharger.

The first thing is does is runs around the perimeter wire twice to do the edging. This can be skipped, but I've never opted to do so. After that it bounces back & fourth across the grass in a ``V'' patern until either the battery runs out, the timer expires (if such has been set), or it is manually shut off. I've found that my lawn takes about 45 minutes to cut, so I set the timer for an hour. This gives me a chance to do the weeding & other weekly chores.

If you're interested, you can see it at work at the link below. The true elapsed time is ~one hour (full movie ~2 minutes).

It's Been a While

It's been about six months and I still love the robomower. It's a great conversation piece (aka, meet the neighbors) and it does a good job. My only gripe is the edging -- our lawn is about 1'' higher than the rest of the yard. If I move the wire over far enough for the edging to be complete, the 'bot tends to fall off the grass & get stuck. So, once a month or so I have to edge by hand.

San Jose Mercury Review -- rebuttle

Mike Lansing, of the San Jose Mercury News, reviewed the RoboMower a while ago. It wasn't a glowing review. I've tried to provide a link, but alas I can no longer find the review. Anywhere, here are some points he made and my responses. I think he was a bit unfair and was trying to find problems to report (not terribly unusual for that paper):
The stakes were difficult to get out of the ground when I had to return the mower after the review.
This is a serious comment? You're not supposed to take the stakes out. That's the point! He is correct, the stakes are 4'' with barbs, and if you need to remove them it's not easy, but that's what they're made for. I'd just as soon they not work themselves out.
It won't work for every lawn. He then sites examples such as if your lawn has a walkway up the middle, or trees close to the edge, or what have you.
Repeat after me: right tool for the job. This criticism could easily be levereged at riding mowers -- they wouldn't work well for my small lawn. The requirements and limitations are clearly listed in the brochure. And for the record, if the installation was permanent, the mower could easily go over a walkway, though it wouldn't be easy to get the wire under the walkway it would only need to be done once!