With robots rapidly taking over parts of not only the economy but our lives as a whole, it's not surprising to see them drift into unexpected areas as well. While robots are assembling products, helping the elderly and even cleaning houses, there's a new use for robots that should elicit a few head-slaps in response: lawn mowing. Honda recently launched a new lawn mowing robot, the Miimo, which represents Honda's first commercial launch for domestic use, but actually joins a growing number of such models in the market.
Honda's Miimo robot follows similar launches by John Deere and Robert Bosch in the previous part of the year. Robot lawnmowers aren't completely new, of course--outdoor toolmaker Husqvarna has had a robot lawnmower since as far back as 1995--but the emergence of several new models is something of a new step. Its part of a growing line of products that look to "do the hard work for you", and the Miimo in particular looks almost shockingly familiar, like a Roomba with blades instead of a vacuum mechanism.
However, despite the promise of a robot to take the work out of yard work, sales of the devices have been less than spectacular. There have been gains, certainly--especially in the European market, where the market has reportedly "expanded by 30 percent"--but big gains on a small number still commonly results in a small number. Selling three of something last year and then gaining 30 percent means that one more has been sold. Indeed, one firm--Mowdirect--has been selling robotic lawnmowers for nine years now, and their best-selling model, the Robomow from Israeli firm Friendly Robotics, only accounts for about two to three percent of their business.
The problem, as some firms see it, is a lack of marketing of the devices. Combined with some downright terrifying price tags--the cheapest Robomow model starts at 899 pounds sterling (about $1451 US) and the Miimo more than doubles that figure at 1990 pounds sterling (about $3212 US)--it's added up to a bad situation for robot lawnmower producers. Few people even know they exist. Of those who do know, only a handful of them can afford them. It's even worse when some riding lawn mowers--like the Toro TimeCutter SS5060, with 23 horsepower, a 50 inch mowing deck and a zero turn radius system, found on Google Shopping for $3139--actually represent a cash savings over the much smaller robotic model, not to mention a time savings in getting the lawn mowed.
Better marketing, however, might turn the tide. Sure, there are cheaper mowers out there. But the Miimo, for example, claims to use just 12 pounds sterling--about $19.37 US--in electricity to keep the "average" lawn mowed for an entire season, a figure which will naturally vary based on location. The savings in time are also not easily discounted.
Though it's likely going to take a few more jumps up the tech tree to get robotic lawn mowers down in price and up in quality sufficient to make them widely used--much in the same way that the personal computer did--it's a safe bet that research will continue, advancements will be made, and eventually, the robot will be mowing the lawn and doing a wide variety of other jobs with ease. The long-term impact of such a move remains to be seen--gardening services may have a hard time finding work if everyone has a mowing robot--but the end results should be a sight to behold.
Edited by Brooke Neuman