Hands On: Robomow RS630 Robotic Lawn Mower
It's like having a goat you don't need to feed.
June 17, 2014 by Grant Clauser

I’m not afraid of robots, really, but when I first considered letting an autonomous machine with whirring steel blades loose in my backyard, my first thought was,  “is this safe?” My second thought was “this is cool.”

Cool wins.

Home robots, which don’t look nearly as interesting as I want home robots to look, have been gaining traction in US, mostly due to the popularity of floor cleaning robots like Roomba. Now we have window cleaning robots, grill cleaning robots and pool cleaning robots. Lawn mowing robots have been around for a few years, but so far they haven’t been nearly as popular as floor sweepers. Maybe it’s the blades.

The Robomo RS630 is a dual-blade battery operated lawn mowing robot that just might be the one to get people to ditch their gas-guzzling mowers (or ice tea-guzzling lawn service). It’s the company’s largest model and supposed to be suitable for yards up to 32,300 square feet (though I’d take that number with a grain of salt). I’ve been using Robomow for about two weeks, and while initially skeptical, I’m now convinced that this is the best thing to happen in my lawn since the year I grew a 32 pound zucchini.

How does it work?
If you’re familiar with Roomba floor cleaners, you know that those devices work by banging around your living room, taking diagonal charges across expanses of dog hair, until it eventually has cleaned every inch. Robomow isn’t much different, except that there are no walls in a yard for it to bounce off. Instead you have to lay a perimeter wire around your yard. The perimeter wire acts in much the same way as a perimeter wire in an invisible dog fence. Robomow detects the location of the wire and won’t cross it.

Robomow’s boundary wire.

To keep things simple, I only set up Robomow in my backyard, which is about 6,000 square feet. If I added my front yard, that would nearly double the total yard size and require a more complicated perimeter setup. Robomow’s programming allows for setup of multiple zones and even travel corridors if your space requires it. For really big yards, multiple charging stations can be used.

Setting up the perimeter wire may take some time, but it’s not difficult. You lay the wire down around the edge of your yard and obstacles you don’t want it to mow over (the mower will bounce off obstacles taller than 6 inches, so large planters, poles or garden walls don’t generally need a perimeter around them). The mower comes with a ruler to ensure you set the wire the correct distance from any edge or walkway. I added a few extra inches around my goldfish pond just be safe. Robomow is rain proof, but not submersible.

Once you put down the wire, you need to stake it in every few feet with plastic tent stakes (supplied). Once staked in, you barely see the wire. After two weeks, grass has worked its way over it so that I need to rummage around to find it.

The perimeter wire connects with a base station which also needs to be plugged in somewhere. I plugged mine into the nearby shed. The mower spends most of its time sitting on a base station charging up its battery and waiting for the next scheduled mow.

Robomow automatically returns to its base and recharges from these two prongs (don’t touch them!).

Robomow works on a schedule (you can force it out of schedule if you want to). By default the mower automatically mows twice a week. The schedule and several other options can be modified on the menu directly on the mower or via a smartphone app. Strangely you can select days and times you don’t want it to mow, but not the time you want it too. I thought that was odd at first, but in practice it makes sense. The idea is that it will work around your schedule. If you block out Saturdays and Sundays, the mower will only cut during the week and leave the lawn open for use on weekends. If you want to use the yard on a day that the mower normally works, you can just switch it off.

Will it replace your gas mower?
One thing you’ll need to get used to if you invite Robomow into your yard is that it’s really slow. That’s probably a good thing, because you don’t want a rogue Battlebot racing around your yard with blades spinning. However, if you expect this robot to cut your yard in the same amount of time as you do it manually, you’ll be disappointed. On my 13 horsepower riding mower I can cut the back yard in 30 minutes. Robomow takes about 8 hours, and that includes several trips back to the base station to recharge its battery. The first time I saw how long it took I was shocked, but after a five cuts, the time it takes is kind of irrelevant. Why? Because it cuts when I’m not using the yard anyway—while I’m working or even at night while I’m asleep. Yes, you can block out all daytime hours so Robomow cuts your yard while you sleep. It beeps, and a little red light blinks on its head (like Kit the taking car) while it mows.

Have you ever been woken early on a Sunday morning by a neighbor’s lawn mower? Robomow won’t do that. Because its motor is electric, not gas, it’s incredibly quiet.

The business end of Robomow.

The finished yard looks pretty good. The mower uses mulching blades, so there are no grass cuttings to bag up. It won’t make a neat pattern of straight lines on the lawn, but I’m not that particular anyway. It seems to handle bumps and depressions pretty well, though I did have to fill in a couple of old rabbit holes that Robomow didn’t like (I was meaning to do that anyway). You’ll still need to trim your edges and live with a missed spot here and there, but overall, it does as good a job as I do on my riding mower, but I don’t have to do it.

Robomow has a built in rain sensor so it won’t cut in a storm. I found out how sensitive the rain sensor is when my father’s terrier lifted his leg on the mower (I tried to stop him, really). Immediately “Rain Detected” appeared on the mower’s small display screen. Robomow was unharmed by the way.

If you’re worried about someone walking off with the mower, the company has that covered to. An ear-splitting siren goes off when you take Robomow off the base unauthorized.

Is it Safe?
So far, it seems to be quite safe. If the robot mower hits a solid object the blades will stop spinning and it will back up and go in a different direction. Somewhat recklessly I tried this with my leg (don’t do this at home!). It worked. The blades are also far enough away from the front that it shouldn’t chew your toes before it backs off. Anyway, Robomow travels about as fast as a vine grows, so any person or animal can easily get out of the way. There’s also a big STOP lever on top in case of emergencies.

Who is it for?
Robomow seems like it would be best for people with uncomplicated yards—not too many trees or obstacles, not to many separate grass areas. The most ideal yard is a square, and not overly large. The more stuff in the yard, the longer Robomow will take. If you’re the kind of person who hates all yard work (or is allergic to grass) this would work for you. If you travel a lot or are frequently away on weekends when most people mow their lawns, then Robomow will keep your neighbors from calling the home owners’ association on you.  At $1,999, it’s not a casual expense, but a decent riding mower will set you back that much, and a lawn service may cost that in just one or two seasons. The best home robots do your work so you don’t have to, and when setup properly, Robomow lives up to expectations.

Robomow RS630
One-time perimeter setup
22 inch mowing width
Automatically recharges
Runs on automatic schedule
Theft alarm
Rain detection

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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