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Commercial Robotic Lawn Mowers May Be Used on a Golf Course or Field Near You

Commercial Robotic Lawn Mowers

The history of commercial robotic lawnmowers is one that includes a few fits and stops. The cost has been a primary deterrent to the adoption of automated technology, especially for cash-strapped municipalities and smaller golf courses.

However, that may be starting to change. As automation has gotten better, it also has become more affordable. Couple that with a commercial lawn and turf maintenance labor shortage, along with commercial robotic lawnmowers’ potential for reducing labor costs, and more operators may reconsider autonomous equipment as an investment with long-term financial returns.

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Technology and standardization

Today’s commercial automatic lawnmowers and other equipment employ a variety of technology, including autonomous navigation and telemetry, smart sensors and cameras, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, and connectivity with apps.

In January 2020, the American National Standards Institute and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute published a set of standards for battery-powered commercial robotic lawnmowers. This is the first standard of its kind and is expected to help increase the number of products on the market.

A sample of current commercial robotic lawn mowers

Those charged with maintaining golf courses, municipal and commercial green spaces and stadium fields currently have a variety of equipment options to choose from. Here’s what a few of both the major and lesser-known commercial lawn and turf OEMs have been up to.

  • Toro® first introduced a prototype of a fully autonomous mower in the early 2000s. More recently, the company has announced an expansion of its autonomous mower development, including the introduction of a suite of autonomous technologies it calls GeoLink Solutions. GeoLink uses GPS and built-in sensors to avoid obstacles.

The company has integrated its GeoLink technology into its manually-driven MultiPro® 5800 sprayer. The technology helps the operator avoid overlapping by automatically turning spray nozzles on and off. It also features M2M communication to help ensure an area is not sprayed twice by multiple sprayers.

The company has recently presented autonomous concept mowers; development continues on market-ready versions.

  • Cub Cadet® released a robotic greens mower in 2014, which navigated its way around a golf green using preprogrammed commands and a series of electronic beacons placed around its mowing perimeter. The mower gained a devoted following of golf course operators, who appreciated its ease of use and “perfect” cut. In 2019, the Presidio Golf Club, in San Francisco, became the first course to have robots — in this case, the Cub Cadet® — handle all of its greens mowing.

The company was preparing to launch an improved machine in 2020. However, it abruptly discounted its autonomous product line, citing ongoing technical issues.

  • Husqvarna® positions its Automower® robot mowers for commercial properties, landscaping services, and others, promoting its ability to help reduce labor costs. Lightweight, the battery-powered mower is charged through a base station and managed through an app. It also features GPS map localization with a theft tracking function.
  • John Deere® announced a concept autonomous fairway lawn mower in 2019. The concept used GPS to guide the mower based on routing set by the course manager. The company also announced it has entered into an agreement with a Netherlands-based company that specializes in autonomous equipment.

  • Echo® has introduced both a robotic mower for sports turf, municipalities, and driving ranges, and an autonomous picker that gathers and cleans range balls. The 188-pound machine runs on a lithium-ion battery and can retrieve up to 12,500 balls per day, according to the manufacturer.
  • Portugal-based TurfLynx® offers an autonomous, 100% electric fairway mower for golf courses. It uses GPS and sensors, combined with operator programming through an app, to navigate its way across a golf course. The company claims it can reduce fairway maintenance costs by 80%.

Coming soon to your local greenspaces

While traditional, manual equipment still dominates the commercial lawn and turf industry, things may be starting to change. OEMs are investing in the development of autonomous equipment – some have products already in the market — to meet a growing demand prompted partly by the industry’s labor shortage.

 To learn more about how Parker is helping off-road vehicle manufacturers evolve to sustainability trends, read our white paper Off-Road Trends: Driving Cleaner, More Efficient and Connected Machinery.

This article contributed by the Fluid and Gas Handling Team.

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