Design for Automation: Shaping Landscapes for Robot Mowing Success

A robot mower can be a central part of your home automation. It can also simply be a time-saver so you can focus on other home improvement tasks during the weekend.

Whatever your reason, a robot mower has many benefits, especially today as the technology has advanced significantly in the past few years.

However, despite the advanced vision and navigation technology, no robot mower is perfect just yet. This means to get the best results, you want to make sure your lawn is set up in the best way possible for the mower to navigate its surroundings.

To help you configure your lawn and garden for a robot mower, we’ll go over the best tips to ensure your mower installation goes smoothly and mows perfectly the first time it leaves the charging station.

Charging Station Location

One important consideration when designing your landscaping is the location of the base or charging station. You have some flexibility when it comes to placing the charging station, but there are a few key things to be aware of.

If you’re using a robot mower with a perimeter wire, then the base station is where you will start your wire installation and end the installation as it loops back to the charger. So you’ll want to make sure the area you design for the charging base is set up for this.

Most charging stations will be IPX6 waterproof, but you still want to ensure the location does not get standing water under any rain conditions. This means you should avoid any dips or low spots in your lawn, even if just slightly.

If the area you want for the base station is slightly low, you can build it up to being level if you’re still in the design phase of your lawn. If this isn’t possible, you may want to find another location.

The spot should also have some protection from the elements and direct/constant sunlight if possible.

If you’re considering an RTK or GPS-based mower, then you have to be careful with overhangs or trees that can block the signal. So this may take a little creativity to find the perfect spot depending on the type of mower you are considering.

Finally, you will need power for the charging station. This will probably be the biggest limiting factor when choosing a location unless you install an additional power outlet near the wall just for the mower and charging station.

Slopes Can Be A Problem

A rolling lawn can have a certain visual appeal, but steep slopes can pose a challenge for a robot mower. Many mowers boast being able to handle slopes of up to 50%. In some cases, they can if they are all-wheel drive models. 

But most two-wheel models only achieve such climbing performance in near-perfect conditions. 

If your lawn is heavily sloped, then you want to consider an all-wheel drive model of mower. Otherwise, if you’re still in the design phase, you can dedicate the inclined locations to garden areas, trees, or shrubs. This way your mower can avoid them altogether.

Use Landscaping Bricks or Rocks To protect Zones

If you’re considering a LIDAR or vision-based mower that doesn’t use a guidewire, you want to create clear borders around areas where the mower shouldn’t go.

For example, sidewalks, pathways, or gardens are often areas that get excluded when setting up a robot mower.

Vision mowers can learn these exclusion zones via their apps, but they do sometimes veer into these areas. If there is no physical border their vision system can see, they can get confused and wander into an area that is off-limits.

You don’t have to use physical barriers such as bricks or stones, but they are the best way to ensure your mower stays on track and off of areas you want excluded.

Any ornamental rock or brick that is at least a few inches in height will be enough for the mower’s vision system to detect and avoid.

Provide Access To Your Entire Lawn

While robot mowers can be intrepid little devices, they do have problems on certain terrain. Abrupt changes in surface height can cause them to bottom out and get stuck.

They also need a specific amount of space to do a full turn. This is different for each mower so it’s something you want to consider before designing your landscaping.

Your goal should be to ensure that every part of your lawn that needs to be mowed can be easily accessed by the mower. You may even want to incorporate a path if two sections are otherwise blocked off with a fence, bricks, or other barrier.

If you’re using a mower with a perimeter wire, the path you make will have to be about as wide as two mowers. You’ll need to run the perimeter wire twice across the path. For RTK or vision-based mowers, you can use a narrower path.

Protect Your Trees

Robot mowers can sometimes be harmful to trees if the mower’s route is not optimized. The best option is if the trees have a no-go area around them, either using the perimeter wire or by adding an exclusionary area via the mower app.

The mower can rub against trees and cause damage over time. The blades can also knick raised roots, so this is something to be aware of when designing around trees.

Just make sure you implement some kind of protection for your trees, especially younger ones. Certain landscaping features like mounds of mulch or landscaping bricks can also keep the mower away from the trunk.

Consider Your Borders

One of the drawbacks of a robot mower is that they don’t do great when it comes to your lawn’s edges.

If your mower uses a perimeter wire, the manufacturer will specify the minimum distance to place the wire next to the edge of your lawn. This generally will leave some missed areas that have to be cleaned up later with a line trimmer.

Newer robot mowers like the Navimow i Series have modes that will straddle the boundary to take care of the edges. But this only works if the edge is not up against a physical barrier like a wall or fence.

Another consideration with your landscaping borders is the angle of corners. Robot mowers don’t like sharp angles, specifically 90-degree angles or sharper ones. The mower can get stuck in these areas and will not be able to turn around or navigate out.

Most landscaping designs are relatively curved so this shouldn’t be a major concern for most people. But if you’re considering a more angular design for certain landscaping boundaries, just be aware that a perimeter wire robot may have issues in these spots.

Final Tips For A Robot Mower-Friendly Lawn

One of the best tips to get great results from a robot mower is to match the mower with your lawn. Whether you are buying a mower for your existing lawn or are in the process of designing a lawn layout, matching it with the right mower at the start will save you a lot of trouble.

Many of the newer robot mowers boast about being perimeter wire-free. These models do work great in some conditions, but depending on your landscaping choices, a perimeter wire can give you more consistent performance.

This is especially true if your landscaping design is more complex with many areas to be avoided. 

Another consideration should be the terrain of your lawn and overall landscaping design. Steep slopes or areas that are more difficult to traverse can mean you should consider an all-wheel drive model such as Luba 2. These models can handle undulating terrain and differences in surface height much better than two-wheel drive models.

Overall, with a little planning and consideration, you should be able to design the lawn of your dreams and still make it robot mower-friendly.

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