Lawn mowers to double as guard dogs

It is the latest in cutting edge technology, the lawnmower that can guard your house.
Part robot sheep, part robot sheep dog it is the latest of a range of innovations now being explored by hover mower manufacturers Flymo only this one can call the police.
Dubbed the guard mower, the top-secret project is part of plans being drawn up by the mower makers to develop 21st century machines that will usher in the age of the robot gardener.
But the concept, which Flymo are insisting is still at an experimental stage and may not make it onto the lawn unless the public demonstrate a desire for it, has not impressed crime experts, bring a snort of derision from former bank-robber turned criminologist John McVicar, who suggested that “electronically tagging lawnmowers would be a better idea”.

“I could just see the police groaning now if they knew that someone was selling a lawnmower that dialled 999 every time someone went near it,” said Wilson.

Willy Wilson, a security consultant and until last month Chief Constable of Central Police and chair of Scotland’s police technology committee was similarly unimpressed.
“It seems like a novel idea to develop the technology but I have grave reservations as to how the public will react to another alarm going off, particularly late at night.”
Suggestions that the lawnmower could be programmed to dial 999 using mobile technology were met with even less enthusiasm.
“I could just see the police groaning now if they knew that someone was selling a lawnmower that dialled 999 every time someone went near it,” said Wilson.

Likely to launch a re-run of the mower wars of the early 80s, when Flymo and arch-rivals Qualcast slugged it out over the garden fence with claim and counter-claim over the relative merits of the cylinder mower over its rotary rival, that resulted in the catchphrase ‘it’s a lot less bovver with a hover’, both Flymo and Qualcast have deployed almost military reserve over the existence of developments like the ‘guard mower’.
“We would not intimate what we were doing if we were leading up to a launch, this is a highly competitive market,” said a spokesman for County Durham-based Flymo. “Yes we are looking at a whole range of technology and we are exploring the whole avenue of robotics.”
Further south in Suffolk, Qualcast’s head of technology Arland Shawe-Taylor was equally tight-lipped.
“There are revolutionary things coming up in the future – but if we let on then the opposition would latch on.”
But investigations by the Sunday Herald have managed to penetrate the murk at the back of the potting shed to discover that Flymo is testing some of the most state-of- the-art technology known to science in a bid to conquer the garden.
According to company sources Flymo, whose sister company Husquavarna evolved a heavy duty robot lawnmower five years ago, is about to come up with the gardening equivalent of a stealth fighter by adopting a range of sensor, satellite and battery technology.
“One of the technologies we have been looking at is a lawnmower that could double up as a night watchman,” said a member of the Flymo development team. “It would involve combining a robot mower with movement and or infra-red sensors and is one of a range of options we have been looking at.”
An early warning capability likely to have evolved from the necessity to combat those criminals intent on stealing the lawnmower itself, an increasingly popular crime in rural areas.
A crime certain to accelerate as Flymo prepare to bring out a variant of the robot mower to compete on the domestic market with rivals like the RL500, announced earlier this year at the Ideal Home Show and a mower with more in common with the machines on BBC2’s Robowars than the Suffolk Punch.
Though unlike the radio-controlled pseudo robots of the TV series, the £500 Friendly Robotics system uses an onboard computer to plot its way around your garden on its rechargeable battery pack.
A technology the Guard Mower is likely to top by using a combination of rechargeable and solar powered batteries.
Capable of dealing with grass areas as large as 5,000 square foot the RL500 like the experimental Flymo models has dispensed with the grass box and relies on turning mown grass into a fine mulch it dusts back onto the lawn, “the idea with robot mowers is that they will graze a lot like a sheep,” said Paul Howells, head of technology at Flymo, who refused to be drawn on whether the company had also investigated cloning technology.
Current robot lawn mowers use a primitive wire-based system to stay within the confines of a garden. The method works by giving off an electric field, which when detected by the mower causes it to change path. To deter thieves, moving the mower out of the area causes an alarm to go off.
A system lawnmower technologists are seeking to improve by the use of sophisticated location technologies that could involve the use of GPS systems and clever computer software.
One possible candidate being an intelligent navigation program devised by BT called Maya. Similar systems already in place on the UK’s roads use blue roadside beacons often confused with cameras to squirt packets of information at passing cars to feed them with local information along with location data.
A method that could be easily adapted for the small computers used in robot lawnmowers.


Published Sunday Herald