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When robot mowers first started to hit the market, they all used a perimeter guidewire. That means a wire was buried underground and the robot used sensors to detect the wire so it could know the boundaries of the yard.
The mower would follow the buried wire and mow within those boundaries.
This technique works rather well and you get a very accurate perimeter this way. The only downside is that you have to install the wire. For some, this isn’t a big deal and many homeowners may enjoy the DIY challenge of it.
However, for broader market appeal, robot mower manufacturers knew they needed a way to make their mowers “drop and go” with no guide wire needed.
That brings us to today where mowers are now entering the market which promises to be able to give accurate cutting but without a guidewire.
Below, we’ll look at this new wireless technology, how it works, and how it stacks up against the tried and true guide wire.
The Basics Of Wireless Robot Mowers
Most of the new robot mowers that boast wireless operation use either 4G signals, GPS signals, or GPS plus RTK technology. Often, these are all combined to provide the mower with the most information possible to get as close to the lawn perimeter as possible on a consistent basis.
When all these technologies are working perfectly, they can have an accuracy of about 1 cm, which is pretty impressive. But that’s when everything works perfectly. Signal loss or degradation due to buildings or trees can wreak havoc on their accuracy.
What is RTK?
You’ll often see brands mentioning their wireless mowers use RTK technology in addition to GPS.
Most people are already aware of GPS technology and use it every day on their phones or in their cars. But RTK is newer and a bit of a mystery.
RTK stands for real-time kinematics and works in conjunction with conventional GPS. It uses signals from fixed-location base stations to correct the normal errors and fluctuations in satellite GPS data. This allows for much more precise tracking. Under ideal conditions, the accuracy of these systems is within 1 cm. For comparison, GPS alone has an accuracy of about 15 feet.
Mowers That Use 4g
Another option that robot mowers are using to ditch the guidewire is 4G and wifi. By using cellular signals and wifi data, they can further enhance the accuracy of GPS in a way that is similar to the RTK method above.
Of course, this requires a signal to be present and strong enough to provide real-time data during the entire mowing process.
Drawbacks Of Wireless Robot Mowers
While the idea of unpacking a robot mower, setting it down on your lawn, and watching it mow a perfect perimeter is very tempting, it usually doesn’t work out like that.
The main drawback of not using a guidewire is that these mowers need a clear connection to all these streams of wireless data. That’s not something that is always possible in a real-world scenario.
Most lawns have obstructions that block signals. This can be due to houses, buildings, sheds, trees, or natural elevation changes. This can leave areas of the lawn where the mower doesn’t know what to do, so it often simply skips these areas as it believes there is nothing there to mow.
Cameras And Sensors To Fill In The Gaps
Robot mower engineers have a few more tricks up their sleeves to try to solve these problems. Many have used sonar sensors in the past to try to get even more data so that the mower can better map its surroundings. But now, newer robot mowers are using cameras and advanced algorithms to “see” the environment and detect specific obstacles or barriers.
While these sensors and cameras do help, there are also limits. Cameras can be obscured by dirt or sometimes they don’t recognize all objects. This is especially true for low objects or objects partially covered in grass.
Do Wireless Robot Mowers Actually Work As Claimed?
This is the million-dollar question.
While all that technology seems impressive, what really matters is whether or not the mower accurately cuts your lawn every time it leaves the charging station.
Truth is, it really depends on the signals available on your specific property. It also depends on how much accuracy you demand from a robot mower.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to really test for signal strength at your property until you set up your wireless robot mower. Think of it like cell phone coverage from different carriers a few years back. You didn’t really know for sure until you bought a phone and tried it out in your location.
Wireless robot mowers are similar to that situation, which makes them hit or miss.
So while that seems like bad news, there are ways to make wireless mowers work even if the signals and other technologies don’t work perfectly.
Many brands sell additional RFID tags and other physical devices to create virtual boundaries. These don’t have to be buried along the entire lawn and can be used to solve trouble spots where the mower gets confused.
These do work, but they take a little troubleshooting and patience. Some homeowners may enjoy the challenge, while others may be irritated that their wireless mower doesn’t work right out of the box.
Overall, wireless mowers can work and the technology is impressive, but they often take a certain amount of effort and more complex lawns may require
Is A Guidewire Still The Best Option For Robot Mowers?
For consistent accuracy that works every time, yes, a guidewire is still your best option for a robot mower.
When properly installed, the mower will follow the exact outline of the lawn and leave no area uncut.
Of course, the downside is these need to be installed and installed correctly. But this really depends on the homeowner’s willingness or enjoyment of DIY tasks. If you enjoy DIY projects, installing a guidewire is rather easy and can be done in an afternoon after a little research.
If you don’t like DIY projects but still want the accuracy and dependability of a guidewire system, many contractors will install the guidewire for you and some mower brands offer suggested services to do just that through a dealer network.
Is A Wireless Or Wired Robot Mower Right For Me?
This will entirely depend on your property and your demands from the mower, as well as your interest in either installing a guidewire or troubleshooting a wireless model.
If you have a smaller lawn with a simple square layout surrounded by a fence or other physical border, a wireless mower may work very well with little or no troubleshooting.
For more complex lawn shapes or areas with sidewalks and gardens within the lawn, the process will be harder and you will likely need to experiment to get it just right. Even then, you may need to clean up certain areas while the robot mower handles the majority of the cutting.
For those situations, a guidewire will solve those problems and you can have it mow perfectly around gardens or landscaping features. The accuracy will also be enough that no cleanup is needed unless you want to do edging on certain areas.
In conclusion, a guidewire still provides the most accurate and consistent results. However, that doesn’t mean a wireless mower has no place.
Some people simply enjoy the latest and greatest technology and enjoy working with it. These early adopters will enjoy learning about the mower’s features and getting it all to work perfectly and completely wirelessly.
But for those who want to buy a robot mower and have it work from the moment after it’s installed, then a guidewire is still your best bet.