GARDENING: Putting robots to work in the yard

By Jeff Floyd

Certified horticulturist and arborist

If landscape maintenance robots ever become mainstream, what will that look like and who will adopt the technology? Believe it or not, some people and organizations are already putting robots to work on the lawn and on the farm. The good news is that few experts express any concern that a “Terminator” scenario will develop.

People have been dabbling with automated mowing machines since before the first 4-H robotics student wondered if a mower could be steered across the lawn remotely. Manufacturers of today’s mowing robots say their goal isn’t to take away jobs. But they do take away jobs, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the jobs in the lawn and agricultural industries are boring, uncomfortable and dangerous. Freeing up employees to perform more critical tasks than robots is one goal of manufacturers.

Early adopters of these odd machines are looking for ways to solve problems. For example, robot mowers are a practical way to control vegetation on solar farms. The panels on these farms are too short for people to efficiently maneuver equipment around them. Remotely controlled robots can mow under the panels with ease.

Steep berms are another location where robots will be useful. Robot mowers are generally lower in height than standard mowers. This low profile increases their stability and makes them a good choice for mowing berms without placing people at risk of injury.

As soon as residential robots can spray weeds, mow the lawn, and edge and blow sidewalks, their adoption will explode among homeowners. And demand will drive supply which will bring the costs within reach of the typical land owner.

Farmers are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs. Robots are promising but not yet worth the investment in most agricultural circumstances. However, you can be sure producers are keeping an eye on advancements. Robot accuracy in weed control, nutrient delivery and harvesting efficiency is not enough to cause them to budge much beyond their current production methods. Producers are a practical lot. Once expenses drop below the current costs to get their products to market gainfully, farmers will adopt robots into their operations. But they’ll keep a close eye on them. After all, you’re not the only one concerned about “Terminator.”