They’re a hit in Europe, an eye-catching yard toy and maybe a remedy for the labor shortage this industry is facing. Robotic (or autonomous) mowers have been creeping to the American market for the last few years, but manufacturers say things are just getting started.
“The time is absolutely now,” says Charles Quinn, founder of robotic software company Greenzie. “The robotics and the software are here.”
Greenzie manufactures software that allows traditional gas-powered mowers to be transformed into autonomous machines. Quinn says the goal is to remove the monotonous tasks that landscapers perform each day so they can enjoy the other parts of the job. Those are the tasks that may have drawn them to this industry in the first place.
Isaac Roberts, owner of Scythe Robotics, says robotics entering the green industry will lend itself to a better equipment service model and even better landscapes in general.
The time is right for the adoption of this new technology, and Logan Fahey, owner of Robin Autopilot, a franchise focused on the deployment robotic mowers, says within the next two years, there’s going to be a flip, and it’s going to be quick. “(Robotic mowers) are no longer a gimmick,” he says. “The momentum is just picking up.”
Your new employee? Labor has been the headlining issue in the industry for several year, and it’s expected to remain high on the list in the future, too. Robotic manufacturers are hopeful, though, that this new technology may be able to alleviate some pains that come along with a lack of skilled and dependable labor.
“I have yet to meet a landscaper that says, ‘I don't have a problem with labor,’” Roberts says. “Even the people that are going into the winter months and they're saying, ‘yeah, we are actually OK now’… they're still hiring. I actually see a scenario where robots are going to expand the landscaping market because it's going to not only free up labor, but it's going to reduce the cost of that labor.”
Tony Hopp, owner of Mowbot, a robotic mower franchise, says the industry’s adoption of robotic mowers might lead to better employee retention.
“When (companies) do find a good employee, they want to keep them,” Hopp says. “And (the employees) don’t want to be sitting on a mower for six hours a day.”
It could also be an opportunity to cut the number of crew strictly mowing lawns, plus your workers could spend more time perfecting their hedge trimming or even getting to know customers, according to Quinn.
“(A robomower) frees up the human labor, which is far more valuable to do the things that are more complicated,” Roberts says.
What it means for business. Fahey says first and foremost, the industry needs to understand robotics.
“The mowers need to be viewed as a tool in your overall fleet,” Fahey says. “It’s not going to be that 24/7 perfect lawn care.” It’s essentially going to take a person with technical software and robotics skills to be able to fully integrate robotics into their fleets, which is why franchise models like Mowbot and Robin Autopilot exist. These companies provide the mowers and their technicians provide the service and install.
And, with this specific type of equipment, it could mean a shift in relationships between manufacturers and end users.
“I think that what you're going to start seeing with robotics is that the entire relationship from manufacturer to landscaper and everything in between is going to completely upend,” Roberts says. Roberts is referencing the model that robotic software giant Tesla utilizes. They go directly to their consumer and eliminate the middle man, which Roberts says is because of the need to have someone who understands the mechanical aspects of the machine and the complex software involved, too.
“If you're going to make a robot, you're not going to want to make a robot that's going to last three years,” Roberts says. “You're going to want to extend the life of that robot for as long as possible because it creates a residual revenue because of the software that will continually evolve.”
Future benefits. Hopp is looking at the adoption of this technology as a way to have a partnership with landscaping companies. “If it helps the guys out, that’s what we want,” he says. For instance, a Mowbot franchise nearby can offer mowing services to a landscaper’s client while that client focuses on the trimming, cleanup or other maintenance jobs. Still, Hopp does see larger, more established landscaping companies having the resources to deploy the bots on their own.
Pairing software experts with lawn machinery lends itself to data not currently accessible, Roberts says. He sees the benefits of robotics extending far beyond cushioning labor pains.
“(Robotics) are going to allow landscapers to gather data in a cheap and effective way,” he says. “All of this data that’s being aggregated for the sake of the robots use, we'll also be getting aggregated for the sake of the landscape.” He sees things like more accurate bids based on job size, even breaking down how much of a property is actually grass and how much of the property you’ll need to lay seed down on. He says there will be a focus on optimizing the machine to do the job in the best way because the robots’ job is to complete the task .
“These things are all possible over time,” Roberts says, “and I think within 10 to 20 years we'll see them and they'll be very common.” L&L
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