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Robotic Helpers

As summer nears and the weather gets nicer more chores are required outside. The most common summer chore that almost everyone does is lawn mowing; while some people love to do it, others hate it. For those who dislike wasting their time cutting grass there is an alternative option that has been sneaking its way into the market for some time now: the robotic lawn mower.

These have been on the marked for a few years now, but technological advances have only just started making them really practical. With Lithium-ion battery options for longer run times, heavy duty blades for mulching, the capability to perform on up to a 27-degree slope, and its automated charging sequence these machines are now a hassle-free investment.

While there are a number of manufacturers, the top two would be Robomow and LawnBott. Robomow offers four different models, starting with the cheapest model and working up to more expensive models with better capabilities. LawnBott offers three different models with the same type of setup. However, even the cheapest of these models will cost you a pretty penny at $1,400. Keep in mind that all of these are electric and require minimal maintenance.

The robotic mowers use a series of sensors in order to traverse the lawn. Before using the mower you must stake out your yard with a perimeter wire. The robot can “see” this wire and will mow inside the perimeter of the wire. The wire also gets placed around any obstacle shorter than four inches. If over four inches the robot will use its bumpers to detect and mow around the obstacle. Once the robot is finished mowing, or if its charge gets low, it will return to its docking station and charge itself up. You can schedule the robot to mow as much as you want, from once a day or once a week. LawnBott also brags that its robots are able to receive cell phone messages via Bluetooth so you can manage your lawn when away from home. The more expensive models of the robots have a three bladed mulching system so that the cut grass is very small and can decompose into your lawn faster.

Another company, iRobot, is taking some of the same technology and using it indoors for vacuum cleaners. iRobot cases three different models; the Roomba for indoor vacuuming, the Scooba for hard floor washing and cleaning, and the Dirt Dog for heavy duty woodshop cleaning. These robots use the bumper system to navigate around obstacles and infrared sensors to detect stairs. They also use a charging station and have a schedule that you can set. iRobot also has a robotic pool cleaner, a gutter cleaner, and a virtual visiting robot. The virtual visiting robot, ConnectR, has a built-in camera and speaker and is controlled by remote control. Using a high-speed Internet connection the user can navigate through the household and can see what is going on.

Whether you are away from home a lot, hate cleaning or mowing, or are just lazy, robotics are here to cater to you. With increasing technology and dropping prices I am sure these robots will be common in years to come. I have seen the iRobot vacuum cleaners in Costco and Sears and with Internet access, anyone can get their hands on a robotic helper.

Just don’t expect them to look like Robin Williams yet.

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Author info

Thomas McMahon Thomas McMahon is a student at Albertson's College of Idaho who, when he's not playing some geeky video game or designing some new, award-winning engineering project, plays basketball and tennis. His study interest is engineering.

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