Automation to Alleviate the Labor Shortage?

Robotic mowers aren’t going to be the silver bullet we need to kill the labor shortage, but they can help free up your labor capital.

Carrie Outside Grunge 1

They’re safer, quieter and more efficient. They improve the health and appearance of turf grass. They don’t degrade air quality, thereby reducing allergies. Some enterprising landscape contractors are starting to make a go of them in the U.S. The European lawn and garden market is already saturated. They’re robotic mowers and they may be coming to a backyard near you.

I always tell my husband that the Roomba (a robotic vacuum cleaner) is my best friend. I have a five-month-old, three furry pets and a full-time-and-then-some job. If there’s one thing I’m constantly battling, it’s time management. I can sing you all of the praises of this miracle device for the time it saves me, but it’s not a vacuum replacement. You still have to lift the furniture and maneuver around hard-to-access spaces the Roomba can’t reach to achieve the ideal level of cleanliness. You still have to go in search of the Roomba when it gets caught up on a tangle of power cords. You still have to empty it when it reaches maximum fur capacity.

But the advantage of the Roomba is that it can be on the scheduled prowl with almost no intervention by me. Is it a perfect solution? No, but it’s enough to get me by until I have the time to do a more thorough manual cleaning—if you can call it that—with a real vacuum.

A robotic mower is similar. You’re still going to need your crews to trim and edge and blow and spray and install. You’re just getting rid of the lowest common denominator of lawn maintenance. The mowing. Autonomous mowers are certainly not a replacement for landscapers, but they can help get you by if you’re short on labor.

If you flip to the Special Focus article on Page 18, you’ll get a chance to delve into the world of the modern robotic mower. Green Industry Pros discussed the feasibility of using these autonomous mowers in the green industry with experts.

Admittedly, at first I didn’t see much room for today’s landscape contractors using these mowers out in the field. But now that I get what the robotic mower can achieve, the last barrier I see to its adoption in the green industry is the guidewire underlying the system. To oversimplify, robotic mowers operate similarly to an invisible dog fence that uses an underground wire as a perimeter marker, except robotic mowers require more of them.

If GPS, which works without wires, can get to a technological point that it can be precise within inches as opposed to feet (meaning it can safely guide your robotic mower between a flowerbed and your home—the difference between feet and inches) and is implemented in lieu of the guidewire, then we have a real possibility of helping to relieve the labor shortage with these robots.

No, I don’t think robotic mowers are going to be the silver bullet we need to kill the labor shortage, but they could be the logical first step to automating the more mundane landscaping tasks, which could free up labor capital to perform the more complex duties and creative projects. And that’s a future I can envision.