Friday, August 31, 2012

Bosch sprouts new market with MEMS lawnmower

It's the Friday before the long Labor Day holiday weekend, and per a multi-generational family tradition I'm heading for the Maine coast. Tucked way in the back of our utility shed is a vintage reel mower that still works, meaning it's not immobilized with rust and can still bruise grass into submission. A much fancier John Deere rider now resides at the front of the shed -- neatly framing a quick history of a century of lawncare evolution.

The next Jetsonian leap is "automated" mower devices, which actually have been around for a couple of decades now (the Institute of Navigation puts on an automated mower competition every summer since 2004). Sales of autonomous lawnmowers grew 35% to €18M with about 50% higher units from 2010-2011 -- in Germany alone, according to Bosch, the conglomerate with all sorts of business units, including two that directly relate here: home & garden tools and MEMS devices. And so earlier this year Bosch tipped its intentions for a robotic mower in Europe, with an official confirmation now available in English.

The Indego robotic lawnmower incorporates a "Logicut" navigation system using different sensors (including, apparently, Bosch's SMI540 compact inertial sensor and touch sensors to manage obstacles) to map out a lawn area, and the mower remembers where it's already cut, so it mows in a systematic pattern instead of randomly like other robotic mowers. This, the story goes, makes for a better cut (no grass is missed, and no areas remowed needlessly) and more efficient as well, up to two-thirds faster than similar mowers that use the same principle. (Users still need to stake out the area with wire and keep the docking station plugged in... and of course some supervision is recommended.) Powered by a lithium-ion battery, it can mow continuously for up to 22 min on a single charge, cutting 150m sq. m of 20-60mm high grass (and mulches the clippings).

Here are a couple of videos of the Indego in action which made the rounds this spring. Anticipated market availability is January 2013 with retail price of €1,499.

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