Robot mower cutting a new swath

<p>Brad Just (left) and Brandon Friesen admire the Robomow L850 as it moves across the law at the Just residence. During off hours from his regular job, Just is working as an installer of the computerized mower to help Friesen, who is the only authorized dealer in Kansas. Malinda Just / Free Press. Click image to enlarge

The next time you?re out in the yard pushing your gas-powered lawn mower in the mid-day heat, imagine the day when you can keep your lawn perfectly trimmed without breaking a sweat or an eardrum?or hiring somebody else to break theirs.

That future is now reality at the home of Brad and Malinda Just at 102 N. Adams in Hills?boro?thanks to Robomow, an automated, battery-powered lawn mower that clips their grass with the mere push off a button.

No, seriously. It really does.

A computer systems administrator and audio-visual coordinator at Tabor College, Brad has begun moonlighting as Robo?mow installer. He?s had a unit employed at his home since June.

?I?ve just really enjoyed having it and not having to think about mowing this summer,? he said. ?It?s been crazy at work, so it?s been nice just to set that out?and my lawn still matches the neighbors?.?

Just was introduced to the product though a colleague in the tech field. Brandon Friesen of Moundridge offers similar kinds expertise through his own home-based business, Friesen Technology Services.

One day Friesen came across a Robomow unit on e-Bay and bought it. Intrigued by the way it performed, he researched the New York-based company that developed the system, then asked to become the authorized dealer for product in Kansas.

?They were excited about having someone in Kansas, so I made an initial order and went to Texas for training on servicing the units,? Friesen said.

Just came on board because Friesen believes the product could take off dramatically when people see how efficiently it operates.

?I was going around to my friends to see who would be available to help back me up because this has the potential to all of a sudden become a very busy project,? Friesen said.

In a nutshell, Robomow cuts the grass so you don?t have to.

?The secret behind it, if you want to call it that,? said Friesen, ?is the fact that there?s a wire laid around the property that acts as the perimeter fence that (the mower) stays within.

?The wire can also be run around delicate things in the yard, so that the mower can cross part of the wire but not the rest of it.?

Though the system is computerized, it requires no programming on the part of the owner. Simply, push the ?go? button. The computer programs the route it should take based on the perimeter fence, and off it goes.

As opposed to the straight-line swath most people use with a conventional mower, Robomow systematically criss-crosses the lawn in something of a ?W? formation. It keeps criss-crossing the lawn until the entire lawn is clipped.

At his house, Just trolleys the mower to either the front or back yard, sets the timer for two hours, and then hits the button.

?I generally do it once a week, and it does a nice-enough job for my tastes,? Just said.

Friesen, meanwhile, operates the more sophisticated of the two models the company offers. He can program his to cut the grass every day if he wants to. It will automatically begin and end according to schedule.

Friesen?s system is even programmed to return to the charging station to recharge its own battery.

?I thought when I bought it that I really didn?t need that feature,? Friesen said. ?But when I went to training, I learned more things it could do. It really has the potential to make most yards completely hands-off.?

Just said it takes his unit about an hour to cut their front yard.

?It?s really not a time-saving thing,? Just said in regard to how quickly it gets the job done. ?The time saving is that you don?t have to touch it the whole time it?s mowing.?

Another thing Just and Friesen like is that Robomow is much quieter than a traditional mower, it emits no fumes and, by mulching the grass, it actually is good for the lawn itself.

?I think it?s a ?green? product in that it?s environmentally friendly,? Friesen said. ?It?s also good-neighborly in that you don?t have to hear it. I now get tired of hearing lawn mowers all over town when mine isn?t making that noise.?

Both Friesen and Just said their automated mowers have attracted the attention of neighbors and passersby?which is what they hope.

?I get a lot of people that drive really slow past my house,? Just said. ?We have a stop sign (nearby) and last night, when I was running it in our yard, I had a person sitting there for five minutes staring at it.

?People have actually knocked on my door to ask about it because they?re curious,? he added. ?Every general reaction is, ?That?s really neat,? and they just want to know how it works.?

Friesen and Just are hoping curiosity leads to the next step.

?I?ve had lot of interest, but I haven?t had sales success yet,? Friesen admitted.

One factor may be the price. The RL850 model the Justs use runs about $1,400 while the more sophisticated RL1000 in Friesen?s yard costs about $1,800. The machines come with everything needed to get started, including wire, pegs and an instructional DVD.

Maintenance is minimal. Friesen said the company recommends changing the unit?s three-blade system, which runs at around 5,800 rpm, every two years or so. The system comes as a kit that is easily removed and snaps back into place.

As for durability, Friesen said the company?s original units, distributed in 1998, are still going. ?But like any other tech thing,? he added, ?they keep improving the model, and you want the new model even if the other one isn?t worn out.?

Friesen and Just plan to exhibit the mowers at the Kansas State Fair starting this weekend. They hope the exposure will result in sales.

?That could go either way,? Just said. ?Either it will be the best product since sliced bread, or maybe we?ll be on the corner of the fairgrounds and nobody will get to us. I don?t know what it will be like.?

Regardless, Just said he is sold on the concept.

?I like it personally because we have a huge backyard and we only have a 21-inch push mower, so it takes most of the evening to mow that,? he said.

?Recently, I haven?t been able to tend to my lawn (because of his work schedule). I basically set out the Robomow in my lawn and I can eat supper and mow my lawn at the same time.?

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