The 3 Keys to Onboarding Autonomous Mowers

Autonomous mowing experts explain how landscape professionals can adopt robotic mowing technology.

Autonomous mowers can allow crews to perform more detail-oriented tasks.
Autonomous mowers can allow crews to perform more detail-oriented tasks.
Scythe Robotics

Right property, right people, right plan—these are three keys to success when implementing robotic mowing technology, says Charles Brian Quinn, co-founder and CEO of Greenzie.

Once those three keys are in place, the robots’ benefits speak for themselves.

“On the hierarchy of needs right now, landscape companies are hurting for labor, and we’re hitting that right away,” Quinn says. “We also know that companies are using them to bid bigger jobs and make more money. The next step would be to recruit a new generation of robotic operators as they’re upscaling.”

Quinn and other autonomous mowing experts delve into these three keys to adopting autonomous mowers.

Editor’s Note: It’s important to distinguish between the two types of robotic equipment: One category includes smaller mowers that are permanently or semipermanently installed on a property, and the other involves larger autonomous mowers that are integrated into a landscape operation. This article will delve into the latter category, where larger autonomous mowers are integrated into a landscape operation. 

Right property

First, landscape companies should evaluate their sites to determine which type of robotic solution would work best, says Billy Otteman, director of marketing at Scythe Robotics.

“Assess the range of robotic options and identify which is going to be most impactful for the type of business they run today and the type of business they want to grow into tomorrow,” Otteman says.

Tim Kubista, vice president of sales and marketing for RC Mowers, suggests selecting properties where the machines are mowing for two hours or longer.

“If it’s a smaller property, and you’re going from job to job in less than an hour, it’s probably not a fit,” Kubista says. “(With larger mowers), instead of three people and three mowers going to a jobsite, there’s one person who deploys three mowers on a jobsite, and while the mowers are doing their job, that person is string trimming, picking up garbage and blowing grass off sidewalks and parking lots.”

Quinn adds that properties like retail complexes that contain little strips and slivers of grass are not ideal because crews would likely have to use the mower manually in those areas, negating the labor savings potential of the robotic mowers.

“If it’s a heavily populated area or somewhere with medians and a lot of cars, it’s not going to save you a lot of money because you’re going to be doing most of it yourself,” Quinn says.

Right plan

Securing the right plan in place is also key, Quinn says.

“You may have this giant industrial complex, but you’ve divided it up so that one crew does it one day and another does it another day," Quinn says. "However, you’re going to want to put the autonomous mower on one truck and do all your big acreage with that so you can reduce labor costs."

Kubista adds that manufacturers and suppliers can assist companies in coming up with the best route plans as well.

“We can give you the checkboxes to see if you’re saving money or if you need to move a mower,” Kubista says.

Right people

Finally, companies need to ensure they have the right people in place to assist with the technology’s onboarding.

“If you don’t take care of the mowers, they can get damaged,” Kubista says. “So, somebody who likes gamification, productivity and seeing improvement is going to be best versus someone who is just punching a clock.”

In order to introduce employees to the idea of robotic mowers assisting crews, Otteman suggests explaining the rationale of how the mowers will help crews be more productive and make their jobs easier.

“Reiterate the fact that this is not going to take their job, but in fact, make it better, easier and more interesting, even potentially opening up new career paths and more profitability across the company,” Otteman says.

Allowing crews to see a demonstration of the technology can also make them feel comfortable with it, Otteman says.

“Once they start using it, they see, ‘this is a mower—it’s just a very smart mower that can go on its own,’” Otteman says. “Having that hands-on demonstrations gives them a sense of empowerment and control and takes away any hesitation or fear they may have.”