Robotic lawn mowers aim to do the yard care for you

Consumer Reports News: July 09, 2009 12:39 PM

If you're fed up with cutting the grass a few months into the latest lawn-mowing season, you might be considering hiring a yard-care company to do the work or even swapping out your old mower or tractor for a robotic model.

But as we've found in our tests of robotic mowers over the years, these machines might not be worth their often high price. And they might not even save you time: Manufacturers of robotic mowers warn you to keep children and pets away from the machines, and some companies advise you to supervise the mowing. That's sound advice, but for a half-acre lawn, that could mean 4 hours of supervising the mower several times a week, compared with the hour or so of work you'd do cutting the grass on your own.

We've also been disappointed by mowing performance. In our 2008 report on lawn mowers and tractors, the Friendly Robotics RoboMower RL1000, $2,000, provided an unimpressive cut. What's more, it sometimes got stuck—it went outside its perimeter wiring and ended up against a tree—and didn't return to its charger.

For our 2009 report (story and ratings available to subscribers), we noted that the Husqvarna Automower 220 AC, $2,100, trims only a little over 2 inches, which can weaken grass roots. And small sticks and leaves stopped the thin, swinging blades on the mower. Get more details on this robotic machine.

Manufacturers of outdoor power equipment continue to work toward enhancing their robotic mowers, including commercial-grade models used on golf courses and sports fields. "You know, our products are getting more and more sophisticated all the time," said Dana Lonn, managing director of Toro's Center for Advanced Turf Technology, in "Robot Mowers Take the Sweat Out Of Lawn Care," on NPR's All Things Considered. Lonn added that Toro's Groundsmaster 5900, has "four microprocessors on it; it's got a network; it wirelessly reports how many hours it's achieved. Computers are driving it."

Read and listen to the rest of that recent NPR story, to which Bob Markovich, editor of the Consumer Reports Home franchise, contributed. "I think the short and simple answer is, [robotic mowers are] still an expensive toy," Markovich told reporter Nell Greenfieldboyce. | Twitter | Forums | Facebook

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