The great Australian dream is to own your own home with a bit of land. If you manage to achieve that dream, you’ll quickly become accustom to the reality of maintaining the grass on that land. In recent years we’ve made the experience better by entertaining ourselves with music and podcasts, but even better would be a future where robots take care of your lawn for you.
Husqvarna have created the Automower 305 that aims to achieve this dream. We took at a look at the lawn maintenance device of the future, but first, a history lesson. Back in 1919, Husqvarna created their first lawn mower, then in 1995, the company made the world first solar-powered robotic lawn mower. In 2009, the Husqvarna group created its first remote-controlled demolition robot, so this certainly isn’t their first entry into the field of robotics and automation.
As a Roomba owner, I’ve become very comfortable with having the inside of the house vacuumed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday without lifting a finger. This made the prospect of having the Husqvarna Automower take care of the back yard, incredibly inviting.
Setup and installation is certainly not simple, something you need to set a decent hour or two, likely many multiples of the time actually required to just mow your lawn. Husqvarna will tell you this is justified by the fact its a once only procedure.
The system works by running a boundary wire around the edge of your grass area, this can contain loops around trees, garden beds and anything you want the mower to stay out of. It also requires a guide wire, which should run from one of the furthest sides of your yard, back to home base, which assists the robot to find its way home when finished mowing, or to recharge. Both of these wires need to be pegged down and if you look at the bag of pegs provided and think that’s excessive, its really not, the wire needs to pinned down tighter than a straight jacket.
You’ll need to find a good position for the base to live, somewhere close enough to connect to an outside, weather protected power point. The wire that’s provided is a long spool to accommodate the varied sizes of different back yards, however this means pre-made, easy-to-use cables aren’t possible and the typical gadget plug-and-play experience is unfortunately not available with the Automower.
The instructions on how to setup the yard are actually pretty terrible, so my advice is to head to YouTube to have it explained in a way that makes sense. After you’ve crimped cables together, they need to be connected to the base to form an electronic boundary for the mower to work in.
If everything is setup correctly, you’ll be able to enter your PIN code to unlock the mower (this prevents people stealing the mower), press Start. If things aren’t right, you may face an error message ‘No loop signal’ and you’ll need to check your connectors into the base from the left side, the right side and the guide wire.
By the time I got the mower to actually move off its base, it was a massive sense of satisfaction, I had succeeded in setting up the mower, despite terrible instructions and a system that’s far too complex for regular consumers. There’s definitely room for improvement here.
In terms of the design of the mower itself, it’s pretty much as you’d expect after using a traditional mower. Familiar are the rotating blade section underneath, with an external shroud to let the cut grass exit, while also keeping objects away from the dangerous parts.
There’s obviously no handled like a standard mower and this baby is hands-free once you get it going. There is no ability to add a catcher to the mower, so if you like the absolutely clean look to your lawn, you’re out of luck, but when you think about why, it’d fill up quickly and need your assistance to be emptied, not great for a robot that is supposed to automate things.
What is available is the option to schedule the mower to go more often, so using the height adjusting knob under the lid, you can choose your perfect grass height and essentially keep the grass at the perfect length.
The mower has large wheels and a relatively large body, as such, it has no problem transiting some pretty uneven yards. Our back yard has quite a steep slope to the back of it and the mower had no problem driving up that incline.
The Automower 305 features a lithium-ion battery that’ll charge in around 90minutes. The mower returns to the base automatically to grab extra charge and Husqvarna say this model is suitable for smaller lawns, up to 500m2.
To keep kids and animals safe, the mowing robot comes with tilt and lift sensors that shot off power to the blades if triggered. If its the bad humans you’re trying to protect against, the mower comes with an Anti-theft alarm, so leaving home doesn’t leave your mower vulnerable to theft. With a PIN code required for operation, any thief would have an expensive unusable brick if they did manage to get away with it. Also don’t forget, unless they have the base, the connectors and wire, there’s no way they’ll be able to use or sell the mower.
The settings panel allows you to set a timer for the emissions free, low-noise (just 58db) mowing to happen any time you like. Naturally an outdoors product needs to be shielded from the weather, and the Automower is thankfully weatherproof. This gives you peace of mind, that you don’t have to worry if it rains.
For the time I reviewed the Automower, it rained a lot and maybe it was the clean new plastic, but I never left it in the rain, but that’s likely a symptom of it being a review product, so I can’t talk about sun damage or operating during rain or wet grass, however if I did own one, I’d let it go, just as long as the hoses weren’t left on the grass.
Charge time – 90 minutes
Sound level – 58dB
Min cutting height – 20mm
Max cutting height – 50mm
With a difficult setup, the pay off had better be great to make it worth it. As amazing as the concept of having a lawn mower join the army of home automation devices, there are problems you should be aware of.
After charging the Automower overnight and getting the wiring setup, I managed to start the mower manually and it moved off the base, excited I’d finally connected everything right, I stood back to watch the action happen. After rolling about a 40cm off the base, the mower reoriented and returned back to its base. I figured it needed more charging, but there was no communication to me as a user to let me know why.
When I first installed the boundary wire, I placed it around 5cm away from the wooden boundary boards we have running the perimeter of our grass are in the back yard. When I got the mower to go for a serious run, it decided to suicide off the edge of the grass, ignoring the wire and drove itself into the garden. You can imagine at this point I immediately start thinking about how realistic the prospect of leaving this thing unattended is.
After moving the boundary wire into about 10cm away, the system worked, the mower got to the wire, detected it and turned around. With that the electrical fence created by the wire does indeed work, but that distance away from the border is a massive issue. If the robot mower can’t get close to the edge, what am I to do with the grass that grows between the wire and the edge of the grass area? Its too big for an edger. With you’re own property, you may be able to put cement edging in, however renters will need to take this into consideration.
My biggest problem and here’s my biggest tip for potential owners, is that the mower was able to cut through its own boundary wire. This is partly my fault and partly the fault of the technology. In theory this should never happen and my mistake was to lay the cable down on longer grass (the manual advises the max grass length is 10cm).
This means you can never achieve the flatness required to avoid the spinning blades. What you need to do is mow your lawn with your regular mower first. While the grass is short, really short, peg down your wires and then you’ll need to wait another few weeks for the grass to grow before using the Automower.
Price and Availability
Robots and automation certainly don’t come cheap and the cheapest of the 3 Automowers in Husqvarna’s range, the 305 starts at $1,999.00 RRP, with the most expensive 330X model costing a mega $4,499.00 RRP.
The mower uses 3 pivoting razor blades to trim the grass and included in the box is an extra 9 pieces. There’s also 150m of loop wire.
I so dearly wanted to report this product is ready to deliver our futuristic dreams of having robots maintain your lawn, so you don’t have to. The reality is that we’re not quite there yet. The Automower lacks the sophistication necessary to achieve the plug and play experience demanded by mainstream consumers (and the price tag) for this to be the solution to the problem.
Price is one thing, but as an early adopter, we’re very comfortable with an early adopter’s tax, so I actually don’t have a problem with the price. Eventually these need to be competitive with traditional mowers at a few hundred dollars, but for now, its definitely a premium.
The biggest issue is the lack of sensor technology that allows the mower to map the environment of your yard and navigate its way around the environment safely, on its own, without the nonsense of a boundary wire. When we look at the way Microsoft’s HoloLens uses depth sensors to map rooms, before placing holograms on top of that environment, or a driverless car system uses lidar to map and understand its environment, we know there are technologies that can solve this problem.
When that type of technology is miniaturised, commoditised, I think we will see someone solve this problem. What I wonder is who will win the race to that point. We’ve seen in other industries time and time again, that technology companies can learn the content area, faster than incumbents in an industry can learn the technology piece.