A robot for golf fans?

RG3 from Precise Path may get you out on the putting green even earlier.

The RG3 robot lawn mower is "whisper quiet," according to one of its inventors. Precise Path

What's green, weighs 650 pounds, goes 3.5 mph, and costs more than $25,000?

Not something you or I will ever buy, but a gadget golf course superintendents may go gaga over.

The RG3 (Robotic Greens Mower 3) from Precise Path debuted a few weeks ago at the 2009 Golf Industry Show in New Orleans. It's a robot lawnmower that uses two lead acid batteries to run its 24-volt DC motor, and one to run its computer, offering about three hours of mowing before needing to be recharged.

"Our robot could provide the human precision necessary to upkeep, actually better than a human is capable of, and not costing the large amount in intensive labor costs," Precise Path co-founder, president, and CTO Doug Traster told CNET News in a phone interview.

The founders of the company decided to craft a robot lawnmower for the golf industry because they saw a need that could be filled with a bot, and an industry that would not scoff at a hefty price tag for high-tech maintenance equipment. While the company hopes to continue to develop the tech to bring the price down, right now the RG3 has a suggested retail price of $29,500.

In addition to mowing golf greens, the company is developing add-ons for the device that would allow golf course superintendents to use the robots to also mow fairways, rake sand traps, and spot treat with pesticides and fertilizers.

It's a robot that could only have grown out of the American robotic heartland, and it did. Traster was a technical manager for the Indy Robot Racing team in the DARPA Grand Challenge. Scott Jones, his co-founder and the Precise Path chairman, is an alumni of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab.

The navigation system on the robot mower uses a combination of ultrasonics and infrared to triangulate its location within a perimeter created by four beacons.

"They provide a reference in space," Traster said. "In our case we're in open space. There's nothing you can block and the end of the green is an arbitrary curve. You can't block it off with a beam of light. So we calculate the distance and then you triangulate. You use four beacons they are about 4 inches in diameter and a couple feet tall and weigh about 7 pounds."

The beacons are set out by the operator around the green he or she wants to mow. After the mower does its thing, the operator must pick them up and move them to set the mower up at the next green.

Precise Path's R3G robot mower has a suggested retail price of $29,500. Precise Path

"This is not like some other robot mowers where they wander through and hope the grass is cut. We have to have 100 percent coverage in a single pass and straight lines as well. Because we know where we are at, we can do patterns as well to accommodate the designs golf courses sometimes like to have. You can program it to do any pattern," Traster said.

So what makes this an environmentally conscious lawnmower ?

While lead acid batteries are a dubious green improvement over gas mowers, the mower offers a solution to another environmental issue.

Because the RG3 is "whisper quiet" and doesn't need daylight to navigate itself, the mower can be used at night. Early morning mowing is not just convenient to fitting in more tee-times.

Mowing between 3-4 am significantly reduces grass diseases, which in turn reduces the need for using water-polluting fungicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, according to info provided by Precise Path. (The GSA and a few other sources I checked also support their claim that a 3 or 4am mow greatly reduces certain grass diseases.)

While it's a logical stretch to say this makes the mower Green, maybe it's something that would be truly appreciated by golf course superintendents.

About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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