Friday, May 05, 2006

Robomower Buyers Guide!

UPDATED 7/6/08! The RL850 RoboMower sells for $1389 TODAY ONLY with Free Shipping at Amazon! That's the LOWEST PRICE I'VE EVER SEEN, BUT WILL NOT LAST! Also available, the RL-1000 Robomower with Docking Station is $1824 SHIPPED! List is $1499 for the RL850 and $1999 for the RL1000. The RoboMower does pretty much everything you could want a robot mower to do: It's waterproof, programmable, auto-mulching (better for the health of the grass), environmentally friendly (relative to poison-belching gas mowers and particularly tractor versions), time-saving, and a conversation piece for your neighbors besides. Given that tractor mowers can cost far more, I'd say that's a fair deal. The alternative being paying the kid down the street $20 a week, or about $500 a year (and hoping he shows up on time and does a good job, etc.) And the devices are far safer than typical lawnmowers, which chew up limbs on a regular basis. Friendly Robotics, the company that makes the RoboMower, reports zero injuries to date because the robot automatically senses if it hits something or if it flips over, and the blades stop.
They work similar to a Roomba, following the lawn perimeter and then somewhat randomly filling in, avoiding obstacles. You install a perimeter wire to fence in the lawnmower. The robot automatically senses the wire and won't cross it.
Robomower is the most successful robotic lawnmower currently on the market. It's made by Friendly Robotics, a company founded in Israel by an engineer who decided to build a robot to mow his lawn on his wife's suggestion.
The potential for iRobot Corporation (IRBT) to make inroads into this market, and indeed expand it dramatically, seem obvious. Just like they did with the Roomba -- engineer a low-cost yet highly effective sub-$200 vacuum while other robot vacuums cost $1,500 -- they can own the market with a Mowba. Provided that they can deliver a product as good as the RoboMower for a price under, say, $699, they would have a big winner, IMO.

iRobot CEO Colin Angle has all but said the company is developing a robot mower.

I don't expect to see one until 2008 at the earliest.

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12 comments:

gmu_law_grad said...

Makes sense to me. Even without ambitious new technology, Angle could leverage the current "aware" technology quite well for a yard, which has fewer obstacles than your typical living room.

I wonder why he says there are technological obstacles? The robomowers have been around for a few years now. Perhaps he means there are obstacles to getting the right technology at the right price point? I agree that the $600-700 range is a good place to shoot for.

thorn_stevens said...

one key obstacle is if irobot is looking to use an alternative to installing perimeter wire, for example, adapting their "virtual wall" technology to the outdoors.

they'd also have to be careful not to tread on other companies' patents...

the iMow from Toro sold for $899 before it was discontinued, so people need a lower price point - $499 if at all possible for a "Jr." version for small lawns, for example.

gmu_law_grad said...

Yeah, I don't know how they could possibly do "virtual wall" technology in an unstructured outdoor environment. On the one hand, sidewalks and driveways make nice straight lines, but what about along the flowerbed? Also, where outside are you going to put one of these virtual walls? It seems less than feasible.

thorn_stevens said...

Good point. It's a technological challenge, that's for sure. I wonder if the "Wayfarer" technology that the company is developing for Packbot to map urban settings could be adapted? It has various sensors that allow it to avoid and yet map obstacles. I also noted that a recent job posting talked of wanting someone with knowledge of robot vision. While this would seem to be aimed first toward military apps, robot vision and recognition would be incredibly valuable for a range of robotic appliances, provided they could get the cost down to a reasonable level (a few bucks per unit)...Roomba already has a rudimentary "vision" in that in wall-following mode it uses its infrared beam.

she said: said...

As someone who owns a Robomower, I can tell you that virtual walls would be ridiculous. Theft is one major issue with outside virtual walls. Since terrain is not flat like your living room, setting virtual walls would be frustrating. Ideally it would be nice if they just put a GPS Robot positioning system on board.

He said said...

What the Robomower needs is a way for it to navigate a path from the docking station to the area to be mowed. I don't want to leave my mower docked in the front yard, it's an eyesore. I want to dock it around back, and have it follow a marked path out to the front, then start mowing, w/o me having to guide it there.

The same feature would be good for a Roomba inside. The 'scheduler' feature is nice, but the roomba has to be docked in the room to be swept. You can't have it sweep the living room on Monday, and the dining room on Tuesday, etc, w/o moving it from room to room. And if I have to move it manually, I met as well bypass the scheduler and just run it then too.

Anonymous said...

We use virtual walls with our scheduler in order to 'do' two adjacent rooms on alternate days. The two virtual wall units are programmed for alternate days and set up so that the IR beams are parallel to each other with the docking station in between. You just have to get the distances right so that the roomba doesn't confuse the source of each beam. Surely the proposed 'mower' could do the same. Certainly I would prefer the GPS solution if it could be done at reasonable cost.

robosdirect said...

I told Tyler Rammage, a Friendly Robotcs distributer/public relations, that Friendly Robotics had to market their product and have a lower price. They dropped the ball and now Irobot will pick up the ball and score a touchtown. Friendly does not know how to market their products, so it is bankruptcy again for them or they sell yet again.
I was told time and time again that $500 plus is too much to buy a new Robotic product with no record. People buy used rider mowers for much less.
I own a lawn service and I offered FREE Trimming service for one year with the purchase of robomower and installation. No one would buy in local market. I could only sell to Cali, Florida, etc. It would cost over $100 to ship sometimes.
I can't wait until Irobot gets in market. They know what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

I run http://www.bamabots.com. I have in depth reviews of the Robomower and Lawnbott units. As an independent dealer, I'll carry the iRobot version as well.

The best thing that could happen to Robomower and Lawnbott is for iRobot to come out with a unit.
Robomower and Lawnbott will sell so many units that they will not be able to keep up with demand.

I sell 5 Lawnbott Evolutions for every 3 Robomower RL1000's, yet the Evolution is nearly $1,000 more!

Why? Because people want features and they want the best they can afford.

The robotic lawn mowers today are priced equivalent to a riding lawn mower, what they lack is marketing.

If/when iRobot comes out with one, the awareness factor for these other two companies is going to propel beyond there wildest expectations.

People will pay more for a robotic lawn mower than they will a vacuum cleaner.

There are a lot of cheapskates out there looking for the best possible price and it doesn't matter how well it works, but the vast majority want a quality product that is trouble-free.

The market is big enough for everybody.

Anonymous said...

Just a note for the people mentioning GPS, that is ridiculous. GPS is useful for general navigation but does not have the degree of precision required for a lawnmower. At best GPS might tell you within 3 feet where you are.

Anonymous said...

i sold mine on ebay it was a totall piece of shit its like having two dicks on a nutered tomcat.....

Ames Tiedeman said...

Buy and RL 1000. It is the best selling robotic lawn mower on the planet.

The iMow from Toro was made by Friendly Robotics, the maker of the Robomower RL 1000 and RL 850.

iRobot is not making a robotic lawn mower. Friendly Robotics owns all the good patents anyway.