Aside from being loud, dirty, and stinky, and requiring you to remember to keep the gas can full, pushing a lawnmower isn't a very desirable activity (unless you're charging the neighbors to cut their grass), but one which is necessary if you live in a neighborhood that prides itself on its neat and tidy lawns.
Bemoaning the need to cut the grass is one of those clichés of summer, and one which is often followed by a variety of imaginative excuses for not mowing the lawn that day. Hearing "It's time to mow the lawn" can also cause your teenagers to rapidly disappear from sight, muttering something about needing to do homework, but if this robotic lawnmower makes it to market, those excuses may be a thing of the past.
Imagine a lawnmower that can not only fuel itself with the grass it cuts, but that can also harvest biomass in the form of grass pellets for powering other applications, and can mow the lawn autonomously, without the need to guide it across the yard. Now imagine the happy look on your teen's face when you announce that their reign as chief lawnmower is over. Sounds like a win/win situation, right?
The good news is that this robotic lawnmower is already in the works, and has garnered a lot interest from consumers, but the bad news is that it is probably more suited to large-scale applications, at least as far as potential investors in the product are concerned.
The EcoMow device, which is being developed by a startup lead by a team of engineers and business students from George Mason University, could be a potential game-changer for commercial mowing operations, as it can cut labor costs at the same time as it harvests a potential revenue source, biomass pellets.
"By lowering the cost barrier to using biomass fuel sources, we hope to provide an eco-friendly renewable solid fuel technology that can be retrofitted into existing vehicles. In established economies we can significantly shift energy use from fossil fuels to biomass sources while lowering the energy cost.
Commercial mowing operations will realize an immediate benefit in reduction of labor and elimination of fuel costs, and a higher profit margin from resale of processed biomass. In developing economies we can lower the barrier to implementing local fuel production sources for power, heating, and equipment."
This robotic mower uses an electrically driven bar cutter to mow the grass, instead of the standard rotating blade found in most other mowers, and then feeds the grass into a pelletizer, producing biomass pellets that are used in an onboard gasifier to power the device's engine. An internal alternator also generates electricity for the mower's electrical components, including the computer control, guidance, and communications modules.
Guidance for the EcoMow is handled by proprietary software, driven by Google Maps, which allows the mower to be directed to cut along the precise dimensions of the lawn, and the mower hardware gathers data on usage and biomass pellet collection for determining what the return on investment is for the owners.
According to GigaOm, a model for consumer use has a bigger financial risk element than a commercial model, so EcoMow is now focusing on a larger version that could harvest big fields to produce biomass fuel pellets as a salable product. A prototype of the commercial version is expected to be produced by April, and to then be on the market for next year. EcoMow still plans to develop the smaller consumer version of the mower, but not for a few more years, and the company estimates that the small model would cost about $500 and weigh in at about 10 pounds.
This innovative mower could have potential in the developing world as well, as a combination power-generation and biomass harvesting device that could power micro-grids:
"An application I’m pursuing is having little micro grids set up in East Africa where the units would go harvest during the night and then come back and plug themselves in to a power unit during the day and supply power to the local region during the day." - Jason Force, EcoMow