Design: I, robot, will mow your lawn

Wake up to perfect lawns, says Ben Crawford.

This Automower has its own elaborate house.
This Automower has its own elaborate house.

Lawn mowing is an art form I've been obsessed with for as long as I can remember.

Whenever dad headed out to mow the lawns, I'd trot behind him with my toy mower, shadowing his every move. He used one of those roller mowers that created perfect alternating green strips the length of our lawns. Which, in the mind of a kid, was pure magic - man and machine working together to turn a mundane piece of grass into an eye-catching design feature.

As soon as I was old enough to be trusted with dad's mower, I was determined to make my lawn designs as straight and as perfect as his, if not better. Then with a few years of experience under my belt, I decided to take things to the next level after drooling over the immaculate, chequered patterns adorning sports fields.

I figured out I needed to mow each lawn twice to emulate the outfields of Eden Park or the Basin Reserve - making two cuts at 90 degrees to each other. When you're talking about a couple of acres of lawn, that added a lot of extra time, but it was well worth the effort in my quest for the perfect lawn, and mum and dad weren't exactly complaining.

Three weeks ago I received a pleasantly surprising phone call that went something like "Hi Ben, how would you like to go to Sweden?" A fantastic idea I thought, but why?

Husqvarna was inviting me to its Swedish headquarters as part of its global 325th birthday events.

The invitation to travel to the other side of the world wasn't the only surprising aspect of the phone call, because I was told that I'd be learning about Husqvarna's robotic lawnmowers.

Say again? Robotic mowers? There's no way an automatic lawnmower could replace a human's manual skill, passion and care for their grass, could it? This I had to see and it wasn't long before I was. Well, give or take 36 hours of travelling.

"If you can cut it with a push mower, you can cut it with a robotic mower," Olle Markusson, the Director of Product Management for Husqvarna tells me as we watch one of the Automowers silently going about its work on the grass beside the site of the original Husqvarna factory, which began operations in 1689.

Surprisingly, the lawn looks beautiful. It's at a consistent height, it's very green and deliciously dense. "That's because keeping short grass short is the best practice for lawn care," Markusson explains to me. "Our Automowers allow that because they're always mowing your lawn, even while you sleep."

So how do they work? The initial set-up involves the simple job of laying a wire around the perimeter of your lawn and installing a charging station. That's it. The Automower then randomly goes about mowing your lawn within the areas you've defined, reversing and turning when it reaches the wire or a hard object like a tree. When it's running low on batteries it navigates back to its base to recharge, before setting out again once it's fully charged. Remarkably, the largest model is able to maintain 0.6ha of lawn, even in the rain.

These little critters are impressive and they're captivating to watch, almost like a pet wandering around on your lawn. In fact, it seems owners become very attached to their robotic buddies, pimping them out with custom paint jobs and building elaborate homes for them.

They look great too, as aesthetic design is as important to Husqvarna as innovation and performance. As Towe Ressman, Husqvarna's VP of Global Design says, "Everyone wants to be surrounded by good-looking products" and you can see this design philosophy flowing through these futuristic mowers, with their sleek lines and designer colourings.

As a lawn purist, I admit I was sceptical about automated lawn care. My chequered patterns can't yet be replicated by the technology, but the fact you can save on average a week of your own time every year, the argument becomes compelling. Which is why one out of every five mowers sold in Sweden are now robotic.

Will I be buying one? We need to build our house first, but they certainly have a place on New Zealand lawns, a far more substantial one than I'd initially expected.

• Watch the Automowers in action at: husqvarna.com

- Herald on Sunday

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