For many decades, futuristic views of the world have foretold a future in which repetitive and cumbersome household chores would soon be carried out by an army of friendly robot helpers. Whereas other technological advances from such forecasts – we were all promised flying cars and entire underwater cities – have yet to come into fruition, they were spot on about their predictions on autonomous household robots.
When entering a building at the beginning of the century, the chances of you bumping into an autonomous robot were quite slim. Nowadays, however, the markets are flooded with numerous types of intelligent robots that can take care of many of the most common household tasks. For example, two of the most common household tasks – vacuum cleaning and mopping – have been perfected by countless autonomous robots on the market, available at fairly democratic prices. Needless to say, households from all around the world are starting to trade their manually operated vacuum cleaner for their smaller – and smarter – little brother, causing the sales of robotic vacuum cleaners to have quadrupled over the past 7 years.
As autonomous robots have rightfully earned their place in the comfort of our homes, and the market for robot vacuum cleaners is quickly getting saturated, companies are now looking to expand outside of the customer’s homes. The garden, often the place that requires the most laborious and demanding chores, has become the latest battlefield where producers of autonomous robots are fighting for the attention of customers that are tired of having green fingers.
Whereas everyone likes the smell of freshly-cut grass, mowing the lawn might as well be the most boring out of all tasks that take place around the house. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the battle for the garden is revolving around one thing, and one thing only: autonomous lawn mowers.
Not Your Average Lawnmower
Unlike your manually operated lawn mower, autonomous lawn mowers are equipped with a range of technological gadgets you would otherwise not associate with gardening chores. The main reason for this is that lawn mowing robots do not have a clue about where they are – or where they are going – unless they are equipped with what is usually referred to as the heart of an autonomous robot: the navigation system.
For the early generation lawn mowing robots, these navigation systems consist of an electrified boundary wire that provides the robot with a signal upon reaching the outer perimeter of the lawn. Using such a setup, a lawn mowing robot starts moving in random patterns, bouncing off into another direction everytime it comes across the boundary wire. Needless to say, these random mowing patterns do not come close to the most efficient path – often resulting in very long mowing times, or even requiring the robot to be in continuous operation. Autonomous mowing robots with this setup are also equipped with limited sensory accessories. Therefore, every object within the perimeter would either get run over by or bumped into – depending on the size of the object.
Whereas the electrified boundary wire is still the navigation system that is used within the bulk of the lawn mowing robots, more innovative businesses are starting to look at an approach similar to the one that has been used by indoor household robots for over five years. That is, instead of wiring the entire perimeter, these innovative lawn mowing robots are armed with additional sensory equipment that allows them to create a map of the entire area, and get a grip on what is going on in their immediate surroundings.
Instead of using random mowing patterns, this situational awareness provides them with the capability of determining the most optimal mowing trajectory in order to cover the entire area in the most efficient manner. In the end, such an approach eliminates repetitive cutting, reduces energy consumption, and ensures that all areas are trimmed to the same, minute precision.
As is the case with all consumer goods, you can always take it a step further and enter the world of luxury autonomous lawn mowers. In this upper segment, the sky’s the limit – and you will find lawn mowers with technology and engineering gadgets that match those of an average passenger car.
These include anti-theft protection to secure your newly-made investment, mobile applications allowing you to set operational schedules, and self-levelling deck technology to ensure the same cutting length no matter the roughness of the terrain. In extremis, you can even find models that allow you to operate the lawn mower from the comfort of your couch using a joystick or a mobile app.
A New Business Model
Similar to what happened to household robotics around a decade ago, autonomous lawn mowing robots are now quickly winning the hearts of the consumer. However, innovation always comes at a certain cost, with even the cheapest lawn mowing robots coming at a price that dwarfs those of the entry-level household robots.
Due to this large up-front cost, lawn mowing robots are currently not on the tabe for most average households. Luckily, Robot manufacturing companies are quickly coming up with new, innovative business models with the goal of making lawn mowing robots available to every household, and to gain access to this untapped market.
One of the most – if not the most – innovative business models that has gained a lot of traction is Robot as a Service (RaaS) – derived from other famous `as a service` business models such as SaaS (Software as a Service) or PaaS (Platform as a Service). With Robots as a Service, rather than buying an autonomous lawn mowing or household robot, the customer pays periodic fees based on the actual work that has been carried out by the robot. In the example of a lawn mowing robot, this fee would be calculated based on the surface area that was mowed during the past period. As is the case for all `as a service` business models, this benefits both the manufacturer – who is now certain of monthly or yearly recurring revenue – and the consumer – who does not have to deal with a big upfront investment, and only pays for what he actually needs.
Whereas Robots as a service is a relatively new phenomenon in the autonomous household robot industry, it has already gained a lot of popularity among small to mid-scale businesses who are unable to afford the large upfront investment that is needed to buy industrial robots.
As is often the case, business models that have proven to work in a business-to-business environment quickly find their way to the business-to-consumer markets as well. Hence, it will only be a matter of time before the service of autonomous lawn mowing will become widely available at reasonable prices, and you can enjoy the smell of freshly-cut grass from the comfort of your terrace rather than from behind the mower itself.