The green space at your caravan park is no doubt your pride and joy – and a huge draw to families who want to be surrounded by grass where they can eat, play and relax. But how much time and money is spent on maintaining turf? Husqvarna – the Swedish brand which started off in the 1600s making shotguns, and today also sells under the brands Flymo, Gardena, Weed Eater and McCulloch among others – launched its first robotic lawnmower 23 years ago and the brand is proving popular for groundskeepers tasked with taking care of acres of lawn. The Automower has been trialled in grounds in Scotland, Denmark and the Netherlands with positive feedback from gardeners.
The lawnmowers range from small models which can cut large gardens of up to 600m2, to larger models which can cope with the grounds of caravan parks and golf courses. Working as a fleet, even parks and cemeteries can be mowed by the robotic lawnmower.
Husqvarna gathered press from around the world at its UK plant in County Durham to show off its high-speed, ultra-silent Automower and to prove to sceptics – Britain hasn’t embraced the robotic models as much as the USA or Germany – that the mowers work well and reduce manual labour and maintenance to almost zero.
At the beginning of the press launch, there were many questions in my mind. The main one being: how is the Automower powered? The answer is simple: it has an outdoor charging dock, which it finds by itself when the battery is running low, docks and charges until ready to out again. My second question was aisles answered quickly: how does the Automower find its way around your garden? Thanks to a perimeter cable, which goes around the edge of your garden as well as large fixed objects like ponds, flower beds and trees, the Automower can navigate around your grass in a random fashion to give a smooth, carpet-like finish. And for those thinking of the ugly, raised cables this will result in: fear not. If pegged flat to the ground, the grass soon covers the cable and more particular horticulturists can ask a Husqvarna dealer to come and lay it underneath the soil with their specialist equipment.
So how about the weeds? Well, given the fact that the Automower goes out daily to keep the grass at a level which you decide, the weeds are literally cut off in their prime. They don’t get a chance to grow. And the moss? The pressure of the wheels, the constant cutting and the short clippings which are produced and act as mini-mulching heroes means the moss is eliminated too.
The clippings are so short that they solve the problem of huge clumps of grass being trod on, and cut down on the cleaner’s worst enemy: grass on the floors walked in from outside.
Not convinced yet? Perhaps you’re concerned about a particularly large area or a field with steep slopes. Husqvarna have dealt with that: their machines can tackle steep slopes of up to 24º (45%), with some models covering areas of up to 5000m2and an area capacity of up to 208 m2 an hour. If the Automower does get into a scraper and encounters a slope which is too steep for it, it will, after a little exploring, retreat from the area to avoid getting stuck. Depending on the model, a fleet service can be run where, via the cloud, operators have a complete overview of multiple models as well as full remote control from one unified system. An unlimited number of models can be added to the fleet, so there really are very few green spaces which cannot be mowed. And advancements in smart technology mean that from September, Automowers will be sold which are compatible with Alexa home hubs.
Another obvious concern of users will be about accidents: if the blade comes into contact with a stone, animal, foot or finger, what will happen? Faced with a gang of sceptical journalists, Patrik Jägenstedt – who as director of primary development, concept and features at Husqvarna Group has worked on the development of the Automower for years – got out three props: a stuffed hedgehog, a wooden foot and a model of a hand. He showed how the casing of the Automower has been designed to a specific size, so that hands, feet and even small animals won’t come into contact with the blade without lifting the lawnmower – which triggers an emergency stop. Wildlife rangers at one park where the mower was being rolled out were so concerned about newts and toads coming a cropper, that Husqvarna added a special brush around the edge of the casing to sweep the creatures away.
Environmentalists will also be impressed with the zero-emissions policy of Husqvarna: compared to petrol-powered mowers – especially ride-ons in larger lawned areas – the robotic models are much more environmentally friendly. A solar-powered hub for the Automower is also being developed, which will further reduce the energy consumption from fossil fuels. The set of pivoting blades are also ingenious. There is less energy required to run the blades as they are so light – weighing less than 10g as opposed to a heavier fixed blade used in traditional machines. The rectangular-shaped blades fold away when they come into contact with a hard object, reducing the risk of breakage. And to top off the features of the pivoting blades, they leave a clear cut and reduce the tearing of grass as caused by fixed blades, which can result in brown, frayed edges.
Husqvarna have thought of the noise element of running a mower, too. Thanks to being so lightweight, electric powered and with lighter pivoting blades, noise is minimal. I would liken it to hearing a car drive past the garden at night, in a quiet area, with the bedroom windows shut.
Husqvarna have not only delivered a reliable model which can be used in gardens, caravan parks, schools and even cemeteries, but they have carried out a test at public green spaces in Edinburgh, Almere in the Netherlands and Aalborg in Denmark. On the 500 series, Olle Markusson, director of product management in robotics, says, “Our objective is to allow landscaping teams to work smarter. With the management system, one person can manage all the mowers in their fleet at one time, and still have time for other tasks.”
The feedback from the users during the test was startling, with Gary Welsh, supervisor gardener at a school, saying he agreed with Husqvarna’s view that robotic mowers can help make professional landscaping better and more sustainable.
Also in Edinburgh, at the Princes Street Gardens and The Mound site, the Automower had to tackle steep inclines and thousands of tourists in the area on a daily basis. David Forward, botanical services team leader there, agreed the robotic mowers enabled operators to spend more time on other tasks, like “hand weeding, dead heading roses and cultivation of flower beds”. He added that the mowers are much lighter than traditional cutting equipment, reducing the need to lift and push up and down steep areas.