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The Robomow Diaries: App turns lawn care into a video game

The Robomow RS612 connects to an app that lets you change the robot lawnmower's settings and check on its progress. But the coolest feature is a virtual joystick that lets you control the mower's movements.

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(This is the fourth installment in a weekly series documenting our tests with the Robomow RS612. Read previous posts here, here and here.)

July 29, 2016

It's been about two weeks since I've seriously tinkered with the Robomow RS612. I've put the $1,599 robot lawnmower on automatic mode, which means that it will leave its charging base station and cut my grass without any prompting from me. It's been great staying inside while the Robomow trudges out in 90-plus degree weather (Fahrenheit before you begin to panic), and my grass looks pretty pristine.

But I just couldn't help myself from trying to exert some control over the Robomow. I consider it my attempt to stop the machines before they completely take over my life. So this week, I gave the Robomow's app a spin to explore what, if anything, you can do with the robot lawnmower from your smartphone. It turns out, a lot, including some video-game like controls of the Robomow.

The app, which is available on iOS and Android, connects to the Robomow with Bluetooth Low Energy, so you can put a little distance between you and the mower before you lose the connection (I could connect while I was in my house, but couldn't go much farther than the doorway to the dining room). The app controls the same settings that you can adjust right on the Robomow. For example, you can schedule how often you want the Robomow to run a cycle, choose whether or not the Robomow edges your yard along with cutting the grass and schedule blackout days and hours in which you don't want the mower to run. After the time I've spent hunched over the Robomow while mosquitoes feast upon me, it was a relief to set my preferences from this easy-to-use app.

The app also gives you more information than the message screen on the Robomow provides. The app shows how much battery life you have left in the Robomow. It also tells you the percentage of your yard that has been mowed during the Robomow's current mowing cycle and what time and day the next cycle will begin. The information takes away some of the mystery in exchange for useful information you don't even have to go outside to see.

The most fun feature of the Robomow app is the ability to control exactly where the lawnmower goes with an on-screen joystick (a generous term for the arrows you press to change the direction of the mower). You can move the Robomow around the yard and simultaneously mow while you press down on a lock button and mow button. It's tricky to get the hang of engaging all these buttons. But once you get the hang of it, the Robomow is responsive to commands from the app. I used these manual controls to cut a small patch of grass and weeds that the Robomow always seems to miss. I don't see folks needing to use this feature often since the Robomow does a good job hitting the majority of the yard. With that said, treating the Robomow like a remote-control car was more fun than a grown-up should be allowed to have.

The Robomow's app goes even further to keep you inside while the mower manages your lawn. And anything that keeps me in air conditioning works for me.