Nothing ruins a fine summer day like lawn mowing. As the owner of a third of an acre in New Jersey—and the primary lawn mower in my family—I can say without a doubt that once July arrives full steam, I’m over lugging out our push mower and endlessly walking back and forth to whittle our unruly patch of grass down to size.
So, when I was offered the opportunity to test drive a robotic mower, I kicked back in my lawn chair and said:“Bring it on!”
Husqvarna’s Automower ($1,499.95), billed as the “world’s best-selling robotic mower,” soon arrived in my backyard. I was thrilled to check out the technology that this Swedish manufacturer had been honing for the past two decades. But I had some reservations, too. After all, Roombas aren’t equipped with large whizzing blades. What’s to stop this thing from going rogue and killing my neighbor’s Shih Tzu?
Maybe even more important: Can a human-less machine really do a good job mowing my lawn?
How robot lawn mowers work
The Automower has three parts: mower, charging station, and a buriable boundary wire that confined the mower to whatever parameters I’d set for it. While I could have buried the wire myself, I decided to have a serviceman do it, which generally costs around $500.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this mower and charging station could stay outdoors year-round, so I didn’t need to make room in the shed. To discourage would-be thieves, every Automower comes with its own unique PIN, which must be entered to make the thing run. In the event of theft, models equipped with GPS tracking can pinpoint the unit’s location—something like having a LoJack for your lawn toy.
After the wire was buried and the mower charged up, I learned how to operate it through my iPhone. The dashboard was easy to navigate. I could even name my mower, and dubbed mine Moe.
I pressed start, and Moe was off on its merry way.
Moe tended to forge a path more or less straight ahead until it “bumped” into the wire perimeter buried one foot down—at which point it reliably turned around, allaying my fears that it would wander off around town. Although I could not steer the mower from my phone, I could instruct it to stop, start, or park back at its charging station.
I could also adjust how high or low it cut the grass—and was pleasantly surprised to find that when working at a higher setting (in other words, not scalping my lawn), it was quiet as a ninja. My husband, admiring Moe’s work, ominously likened it to a “silent backyard assassin.”
Ironically, while this mower gave me the time to catch up on my “Bachelorette” binge-watching, I have to admit that I spent much of my new free time staring mesmerized at Moe. And I was hardly alone: My 11-year-old son, Charlie, and my cat, Jag, were glued-to-the-windows fascinated during the mower’s first few outings.
My neighbors were also intrigued.
“It looks like something out of ‘Star Wars,’” one pointed out.
“When can you bring it over to my yard?” another wanted to know.
What I loved about my robot lawn mower
Over the next eight weeks, Moe mowed my lawn at least once a week. I learned to love many things about it. Since it was so whisper-quiet, it could run day or night without driving me or my neighbors nuts. And since Moe could be set to cut just a little grass at a time (which is recommended), its finely chopped clippings acted as a natural fertilizer for the lawn. The yard looked neat, green, and healthy.
All told, Moe granted me around two extra hours per week. With Moe, I never had to leave the air-conditioned comfort of my home to cut the grass.
The downsides of robotic mowing
While Moe did a nice, uniform job and my lawn looked healthy, there were some downsides to robomowing. As much as I admired this little mower’s independence, observing it circle around willy-nilly was often hard. Several times I was dying to yell, “Wait, you missed a spot!” because there were patches that were longer than others. Running it again usually took care of that, but still.
While the mower did a decent job moving around large obstacles in its path, it occasionally got stuck on tree roots—requiring that I march out and give Moe a helpful nudge forward.
Last but not least, although we were informed that robotic mowers were designed to never harm kids or pets, there was one casualty: One afternoon when a friend came by to see the mower in action, her daughter left her vest unattended on the grass—and Moe had no compunction about running over it and tearing it to shreds.
Granted, the vest was flush to the ground and shouldn’t have been left there. But suffice it to say that if I had been mowing the lawn, this girl’s vest would have escaped unscathed.
We began to be more wary about running the mower without first checking the lawn first.
Is a robot lawn mower worth the cost?
By the time Moe’s two-month stint with us was over, my husband and I agreed that this was an impressive machine. For true lawn-mowing haters, it might even be a wise investment. The average cost of hiring someone to cut the grass is about $60 a shot—or $720 for the summer season. That would mean this contraption would pay for itself in two summers, or less for those lucky folks with big lawns.
Nonetheless, we also agreed that we weren’t about to buy one just yet. Reality check: Despite all my griping, our lawn is flat, small, and fairly easy to mow. Had our property been bigger or on tougher terrain at more of an incline (the Automower can tackle slopes of up to 35%), it would have been a lot more tempting.
But talk to me during the dog days of August. I may just change my tune.