New LawnBott robo-mower gets smarter with an app

/ Updated: 7 May 2014, 9:28 am AEST

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Most people will walk away when they find out the LawnBott LB85EL costs $2,799. If you don't want to spend your time mowing, that upfront cost is huge compared with what you'll pay a human to mow for you (especially if that human happens to be your financially dependent offspring).

And yet. Similar to the Roomba, there's something transfixing about the little LawnBott and the way it bops around your yard. During a demo here in Louisville, I found the LawnBott quiet and unobtrusive. The sculpted, cherry red cover has a Ferrari-style flair (Kyodo America only distributes LawnBott in the US, but the originating company is Italian firm Zucchetti Centro Sistemi). The fact that this new model gives you control via iOS or Andriod app rather than a clunky onboard LED screen makes programming LawnBott that much more convenient.

The move to app-based controls and scheduling in the new LB85EL is perhaps remarkable only because it happened in a robot lawn mower before it came to a robot vacuum, by far the more popular kind of home maintenance bot. New features beyond the app include three rows of the the cog-style wheels (up from two rows), which reduce slipping and let the LawnBott maintain traction on inclines up to 25 degrees. You can also assign the new LawnBott to cover up to four different zones in your yard, compared with three zones from last year's LB75DX.

LawnBott says the LB85EL will work for about 3 hours before it automatically heads back to the docking station to recharge. It can cut to heights ranging from 0.75 inches to 2.8 inches, thanks to a 12-inch replaceable cutting blade. A rain sensor will tell it to head for the charging station, where its water-resistant design will protect its electronics from moisture damage.

Buying any robot mower is still more involved than its robot vacuum counterpart. Similar to an electric dog fence, you need to bury a guidance wire around the perimeter of the area you want them to mow. And while the LB85EL is rated for lawns up to 24,000 square feet (2,230 square meters, or just over half an acre), due to its 6.9 Ah Li-Ion battery, the LawnBott will take multiple runs, over multiple days for the bot to finish a yard that big once you account for the three-hour charging time.

Thankfully, the LawnBott is so quiet that you can run it at night without expecting guff from your neighbors. That multi-day scheduling also helps explain the benefit of the app-based interface. Now you can adjust the schedule on your phone instead of having to run outside to the unit itself to tell it to skip a day.

You can buy other units from LawnBott or elsewhere to handle larger yards, but prices escalate quickly. The LawnBott LB300EL, rated to 64,000 square feet or about 1.5 acres, goes for around $5,200. At $2,800 to cover half an acre, the LB85EL sits at the top of the price scale as the other robomowers with similar range for sale in the US, namely the similarly app-enabled Friendly Robotics Robomow RS 622 ($1,700) and the Husqvarna Automower 230 ACX ($2,700).

Robot mowers are much more popular in Europe than in the US due to the aforementioned cost issues as compared with human labor. I suspect eliminating the guide wire and improving battery life so that it could finish a whole lawn in a single session might also speed wider American adoption. All of those hurdles might become smaller with increased competition here. According to the Kyodo American representative we spoke with, John Deere, Honda, and even iRobot are all exploring entry into the US market.

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Kyodo America LawnBott LB85EL

Part Number: LB85EL
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