The Aitkin businessman of Dotzler Power Equipment became a dealer of the Husqvarna Automower three years ago, and he’s watched as sales of and interest in the robotic lawn mower have grown in that time. He owns three of them himself — one at his business, one at his farm and one at home. When his father started the business 57 years ago, Dotzler said he couldn’t have even imagined it would one day sell robots.
“I think they’re really going to change things,” Dotzler said by phone Thursday, July 25.
The lawn mowing robots are a natural extension of robot vacuums that first hit the market 15 years ago, and it doesn’t stop there. Offerings of that variety now include moppers, window washers, security guards, pool cleaners and even personal assistants that will retrieve items for you. These automated devices have the potential to make a big difference around the house, completing chores that would otherwise take time away from other endeavors or even assisting those with physical limitations.
I’ve typically been a late adapter to many new technologies — mainly due to a lack of funds, but also because of a general feeling that employing these robots could be construed as a mark of laziness. I mean, it doesn’t really take that long to vacuum. But when your home is filled with four furry beasts (I mean, pets), it starts to look a bit more appealing.
Enter Harry, an IRobot Roomba that recently joined our family. His primary directive is to collect the fur and hair that so quickly and obviously accumulates on our darker wood floors and rugs — hence, his name. What a relief to come home to clean floors.
They’ve become surprisingly quite affordable, too. We paid less than $300 for Harry, who is Wi-Fi-enabled and works with the Amazon Alexa. A coordinating smartphone app allows us to schedule Harry’s cleaning times and lets us know when he’s completed a job or needs help with something (I did actually just refer to a robot with a human pronoun). Sensors on the vacuum notice dirtier areas, which prompts Harry to spend a little more time there. More expensive models include mapping technology, which allows the robot to learn a space and avoid bumping into things as much while becoming more efficient.
We’ve enjoyed Harry’s workmanship so much, it wasn’t long before we started thinking about other opportunities to take advantage of advancements in robotic technology.
Hate mopping? There’s a robot for that. In fact, several companies now offer versions that can both mop and vacuum with the same machine.
Too short to reach high windows, or again … just hate washing them? Also a robot for that — at least six different offerings and likely more. A ranking by the website GearHungry weighs the pros and cons of several robotic window cleaners, praising some for their excellent mapping abilities and good prices, panning others for their loud sounds or short battery life.
“We’re in a golden age of home automation, where everything is being tested out by a free-moving market with numerous players in the field,” the website states, noting the market is in the midst of giving us a feel for what it’s going to be like to live in our homes in 10 to 20 years.
Of all the home robots available so far, the lawn mower intrigues me the most. Mowing the lawn — especially when your lawn is as vast as ours — is an especially labor intensive chore, and there’s no putting it off. When it has to be done, it has to be done.
Tom Dotzler said the customers he’s worked with have fallen in love with their Automowers, and he includes his own view in that observation. He’s named all three of his robots, including Fred, who patrols his yard at home. The children at his wife’s in-home day care enjoy Fred, too.
“They say, ‘Here comes Fred!’ And they hold up their legs so it can go under the swing set,” Dotzler said.
Besides naming the robots — like Batman or Ole and Lena — personalization and care for the lawn mowers has opened up a new market as well. Dotzler said some of those he’s worked with have added stickers to make their mowers look like turtles or skunks or have purchased and decorated small shelters, akin to dog houses, over their charging stations.
“You come to a whole different community of people that have these,” Dotzler said. “It’s really neat.”
Robot lawn mowers work a bit differently than a traditional mower. Besides not having a human operator, of course, they also cut a little bit of grass at a time, rather than all at once. Dotzler said Fred is set up to complete five cycles in day, returning to his (yes, his) charger each time. This method, manufacturers say, helps achieve a perfect-looking lawn at all times. The mowers can run any time day or night and even in the rain, and they can handle uneven and sloped ground up to 24 degrees in the case of Husqvarna’s offering.
A boundary wire keeps the robot within the specified area, so it doesn’t wander into the neighbor’s yard or across the street. And integration with smartphone apps along with Alexa and Google Home means you can keep tabs on your robot helper, including if someone attempts to steal it. A unique PIN prevents anyone else from operating the mower, in the case of the Automower. Safety features stop the mower’s blades as soon as it’s even slightly lifted from the ground, and it features a wide berth between the blade and the plastic covering.
The models Dotzler sells range from $2,000 to $3,599, depending on the area it can cover on a single charge. There are at least six other companies also manufacturing robot lawn mowers, including Gardena, Worx, Flymo, Bosch, Robomow and LawnBott.
Beginning last year, Dotzler Power Equipment provided robot lawn mowers to the Aitkin School District to mow their athletic fields, although it was a bit of a learning curve to determine the best height for football-ready grass, he said. He said he knows of a landscaping company in the Twin Cities that’s had difficulty finding people to hire, instead turning to a fleet of 50 mowers and a much smaller staff tasked with moving them from yard to yard.
Where Dotzler sees the most potential for the product is helping older people stay in their homes. He said they’ve even inspired social gatherings, where neighbors sit outside and watch the robot do its work.
“Retired couples are buying them,” he said. “I think of parents that can’t take care of the yard and want to stay home.”
The mowers do have their limitations, including the inability to traverse areas that are too steep, he noted, but once you’ve become comfortable with what it can and can’t do it begins to feel limitless.
“When I come home and my lawn looks nice, it changes your life,” he said.
My next request would be a robot to put away my laundry. I’d be all in on that.