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East Hampton Village Sends in the ‘Mowbots’

Thu, 08/10/2023 - 09:52
The robot mowers from Greener are tracked remotely and will shut down immediately if tampered with.
Carissa Katz

There’s talk lately that artificial intelligence is going to wipe out the human race. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if first it mowed our lawns? 

That’s the idea behind Greener, a Southampton company recently hired by East Hampton Village to cut two parcels of village-owned lawn at Village Hall and the Isaac Osborne House with robotic mowers. As part of a pilot program the board voted to pay Greener $850 for each parcel for the remainder of the 2023 season and $1,700 for each parcel for 2024. 

“I’m anticipating cost savings from this,” said Dave Collins, the village’s superintendent of public works. “If the season works out to 28 to 30 weeks, it’ll cost us $52 a week.” 

Adam Goldwasser, vice president of Greener, explained how the mowers work at the July 31 village board meeting. 

Unlike a regular mower, the robots, which look sort of like fat black oversize remote-controlled cars, cut a small amount of grass, daily, rain or shine. Using GPS, the mowers build a property map, and hit all the spots. “It’ll befuddle you if you watch them because it appears random,” he said, “But you go to sleep, and you wake up and the grass is cut.” 

The mowers are powered by electric batteries, operate primarily at night, and are so quiet that they don’t disturb nearby conversation. They are “full of safety features” that allow them to run without supervision. 

For example, the mowers shut down immediately if a child, or potential thief, tries to lift them. The thief would get caught because each mower is tracked remotely. They also won’t mangle your dog. “In Greener’s usage, we’ve never had an accident or safety incident of any kind,” said Mr. Goldwasser in a phone call. 

“It’s extremely difficult to get a hand, foot, or paw under the mower without lifting it. If you lift it, the power shuts off immediately and it cannot be restarted without a code. If something like a hot dog was left out on the lawn and the mower passed over it, it wouldn’t cut the hot dog in half, it would feel it as a hard, immovable object, and the blades would retract when they came in contact with it.” 

But wait, there’s more! The robot mowers use no gasoline, reduce the use of rattling landscape trailers, thereby eliminating noise and air pollution. 

Greener says 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide is released per acre of lawn by conventional mowers, which release 11 times more pollution than a new car. Gaspowered mowers are also loud, producing the same noise as a passing subway car. 

Finally, because the mowers cut less than a centimeter of grass at a time, those clippings break down easily, providing a nitrogen boost and allowing lawns to lock in hydration. “Lawns with robotic mowers look greener,” said Mr. Goldwasser. Fertilization — and the nitrogen runoff that comes with it — is no longer necessary, he said. 

Keith Schumann, owner of Anchor Homes and Estates, a home management company in Sag Harbor, has a client who employs one of Mr. Goldwasser’s mowers. “The mowers are interesting. They do their job well, but they’re limited in their capabilities,” he said. “With these large estate lawns, the landscapers still need to come in to weed-whack, edge the beds, and in the case of my client, they have to manually mow the strip of lawn between the street and their privacy tree hedge. So not totally a panacea for the town noise restrictions.” 

Mr. Collins acknowledged that village employees would still need to edge, but with time saved from not having to mow, they could focus more on the health of the lawn and other details. 

“Both properties contain village offices that are often visited by the public. This will make these properties look consistently good. These should be the spots that always look good. I’m excited about this. I’m an old school guy, but the service really intrigues me. We never have to touch the mower.” 

A couple of years ago, Sag Harbor Village used a robotic mower by the yacht club on Bay Street to mow the lawn where the farmers market operates on Saturday mornings. 

“We called it the ‘mowbot,’ “ said Joey Weeks, who works for the Public Works Department. “It worked great.” It was not one of Greener’s mowers, and Mr. Weeks said he wasn’t sure what happened to it. 

Mr. Goldwasser has been on the South Fork for the last two seasons and said 60 mowbots are currently at work. 

“I believe when the village sees the benefits, they’ll be interested in expanding the program.” Could robot mowers one day maintain something as large as Herrick Park? “Totally feasible,” said Mr. Goldwasser. “It’s a publicly used park so maybe they would only want them running a limited number of hours. We’d have to determine the number of mowers needed. We haven’t been requested to look at that space yet.” 

“We’re hoping that our landscaping partners can start operating lighter. They can reduce a crew down to a trimming crew and a pickup truck. No more trailers. It costs them less and it’s better for society.” 

The mowers were already on the job by Wednesday. 

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