Blog: Robo-crop: Why auto-mowers keep us at the cutting edge.
By Graham Bird, Supply Chain Director, Ground Control
Embracing new technology and continuously investigating new, better ways of working, is not only good for business, but also helps us to achieve our purpose of caring for the environment.
Around three years ago, we were approached by representatives from Husqvarna, one of our equipment suppliers, who wanted to talk to us about their innovative auto-mowers to see if we would be interested in deploying them at some of the sites we maintain. As often happens, this coincided with a situation where we were struggling to identify teams to work at one of our customers’ properties, the Maritime Museum’s Prince Philip Maritime Collections Centre in Kidbrooke. This was because it needed both regular shrub bed maintenance and more frequent lawn mowing. So, we decided to trial an auto-mower there to see if we could resolve our resourcing issue and keep the customer happy into the bargain.
It worked so well, we deployed three more at the Tower of London shortly afterwards, putting them to work to cut the grass in the moat that surrounds the tower. Again, it was a situation where we needed to innovate. Previously, we’d had a few complaints about the grass cutting from the customer and it was a site where we had to carry out moat cutting at the weekend using a large ride-on mower, which increases our costs. So, we trialed one auto-mower there, it worked well, improved the standard of grass cutting and now we’ve deployed two more. The auto-mowers also helped us to maintain the grass at the Tower during the Covid-19 crisis when we had to reduce gardeners’ hours at the request of client due to the site closing. Feedback from the Tower of London has been really positive, and they’ve even run a competition to name the auto-mowers, which seem to have become a hit with visitors too.
The advantages are obvious. They work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and cut randomly, so you don’t end up with clumps of arisings on the grass. It just constantly keeps the lawn at a certain level. Both sites reported improvements in the standard of lawns too. For us, having an auto-mower on site means we can redeploy skilled labour to other maintenance and improvement tasks. The lower operating costs and higher cutting frequency means we see a quick return on investment too.
Crucially, using these auto-mowers means we reduce our carbon footprint, since they are recharged by a docking station rather than using diesel or petrol. There are also no direct emissions from auto-mowers, they don’t consume much electricity and they are manufactured at a green production facility here in the UK. They’re also far quieter than conventional mowers, so they can be deployed at places where noise could be an issue, such as near schools or care homes.
And, as the technology has improved, we have been able to deploy them at sites that weren’t previously suitable. One of the issues with the earlier models is that you had to install a guide wire in the ground to mark the perimeter for cutting, which meant digging a fixed location and concerns around catching wires when aerating lawns for example. That’s fine in some locations, but if you wanted to use one in an area where there are paths splitting areas of grass, for example, it poses a problem. But, the technology is always improving, and we now have auto-mowers that use GPS navigation instead of the guide wire, meaning we can use them in far more types of sites. We now have one mowing the lawn in front of the White Tower at the Tower of London, and will be trialling them at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in the coming months as well as installing them at other locations.
Controlled via an app on your smartphone and able to cut at many different heights, these updated mowers mean you can create different zones for different grass lengths and zone off, for example, an area of daffodils but add this area back in once they have been taken down. They’re far more versatile and, as a result, open further deployment opportunities. But the biggest barrier to wider adoption currently is you’re limited to cutting an area of around 5,000 m2, which is relatively small in grounds maintenance terms. However, we are seeing advances in this area too – one supplier has a large commercial auto-mower that can cut around 50,000 m2, while Husqvarna are launching one next year that has a capacity of around 75,000 m2. That means we’ll be able to trial their use in far more locations, giving more of our customers a better service and further reducing our carbon emissions.
As for the future, who knows where the technology will take us? It may be these autonomous mowers could have different types of implements fitted and be adapted to different tasks or be controlled and even deployed by drones. One thing is for certain – we’ll keep monitoring what’s available and innovating when possible or necessary so we can continue delivering a better service and caring for the environment.
For more information contact:
Supply Chain Director