We all want more free time, especially during our summer months. When it comes to lawn care, regular weekend cuttings are yet another task that takes time away from family, friends, the beach, or just kicking back with a frosty beverage. Robotic lawn mowers aren’t exactly new, but prices are dropping and the tech is getting better. So are they up to the job? We’ve taken the MoeBot S5 from Robot My Life out for a spin to see if we can finally put our feet up and let the robots do the work.
What makes a robot mower different?
Robotic lawnmowers do things differently than conventional petrol push mowers. Many of us tend to mow the lawn when the grass gets long, which could be a couple of weeks or more after the last cut. If the mower has a catcher, the cuttings can be easily removed, but if not, leaving the clippings where they fall can actually suffocate your lawn. Also, as our lawns are in an uncut state most of the time, they don’t look their best.
Robot mowers, on the other hand, are designed to continually rove your lawn to keep it looking freshly cut. This could be a few times a week, or even multiple mowing sessions in a day. Robot mowers don’t have a catcher, but as the clippings from each mow are short, they can be left on the lawn as compost, adding nitrogen to the lawn to make it healthier and greener. This also means there’s no need for raking, except for clearing away fallen debris like tree branches.
The most obvious benefit of a robot mower, of course, is that it cuts the lawn by itself, so you don’t need to. Also, there’s no petrol to worry about, no emissions to pollute the air, they are quiet (65dB) and won’t wake up the neighbours. Nor will they take up room in your shed.
There will be some initial setup needed to get your robot mower ready to tackle your yard. Robotic mowers cover your lawn in an irregular pattern, in much the same way a robot vacuum or pool cleaner reaches all areas. (This is also handy because your mower won’t leave tracks or patterns on your lawn.) However, you will need to define the boundaries for the mower to work within, as well as obstacles to avoid.
This is done by running a boundary or wire around the edges of your grass. The cable carries a weak electrical current that is sensed by the MoeBot S5 and signals it to change direction.
You get 100 metres of wire included in the box, along with a bag of pegs to secure them into the earth. The cable starts and ends at the MoeBot’s charging station, and the robot runs counterclockwise within the loop.
Creating the boundary loop can be a bit tricky depending on the shape of your property, as you will need to encapsulate things like bird feeders, trees, planters, tree roots and other objects. Also, the wire can’t cross over itself or create obtuse and right angles. So, for a corner, the cable should be slightly curved, rather than a squared edge.
Another thing is that the wire needs to be placed at least 35 cm inside your lawn’s actual edge, not right next to it. This allows space for the MoeBot to turn around and head the other way, and there’s an included cardboard ruler that helps you measure this out. The Moebot S5 will still cut some grass past the boundary wire, but it won’t completely reach your lawn’s edges, so some trimming will be needed to tidy this up.
Once it’s all done, you can leave the cables in permanently, including over the winter when you’re not mowing. Setting this all up will take some time depending on the size and complexity of your lawn. Ours took about 30 minutes. Otherwise, you can hire an expert from Robot My Life to do this for you, which is a good option for large or tricky setups.
Robot mowers cut your lawns in sessions, as battery limitations often means they do not have enough charge to do an entire space all at once. Essentially, the mower will cut, return to base for a recharge, then cut again and recharge for as long as you want it to work. This means that your lawn is never ‘done’ and is always in a state of being cut.
The charging station is the little home where the MoeBot S5 goes to top up its battery or to sleep until its next scheduled work run. The boundary loop will dictate where your place the charging station, as this needs a 2 metre straight run of boundary cable to allow an easy approach. You will also need to be within the vicinity of a weather-proofed power outlet, and the included power cable is only about 3 metres.
We were hoping to position the charging station away from the lawn and underneath an awning, however, these limitations meant that we had to place it on the lawn itself. This is still okay, as the charging station is weatherproof, and the MoeBot S5 can get wet. It just looks a bit untidy.
In terms of charge time, the MoeBot S5 can operate for about an hour before having to return to the charge station. Recharging might take 2 hours, and the MoeBot will resume cutting where it left off. Total charge time will also be impacted by how thick your lawn is, rain, and the slope or grade of the terrain, so your experience may be different. How long it takes doesn’t really matter all that much, however, as long as the MoeBot can return to its base to recharge. Of course, if you have a larger lawn, the MoeBot will need to recharge more often. To accommodate this, you can, for example, just extend its daily work time to, say 8 hours, for a larger lawn, and 6 hours for a medium-sized one.
The S5 model is rated for lawns up to 600 square meters. If you want a longer cutting time per return, you can choose the MoeBot S10, which has a 5200mAH battery, versus the S5’s smaller 2600mAH unit. The S10 is designed for 1400 square metres and costs $1050.
The first time the Moebot mows your lawn, it will need to do a few sessions, especially if you have a large property. This might look a bit odd – with sections of long and short grass – until it does a complete run, and this might take a few hours. Once finished, it will then ‘maintain’ your grass at that length, so that it always looks freshly cut.
Initially, you might need to use the maximum cut height setting to avoid giving the mower too much grass to chew on. After a few runs, you can lower it. It should generally get through thick, wet grass, assuming your lawn isn’t completely overgrown, but this does sap a lot of power.
Our test lawn is small and square and surrounded by planters. This allowed for a simple setup, however, there is a sunken drainage grating near the centre with a 6cm deep gap at its edge. We set the desired grass length to 5 cm, slid the mower into the charge station and created a work schedule. Once it reached 75 percent charge, off it went. We watched to see how it managed the grating, and while it could get across it from most approaches, it did occasionally get stuck in the gap. Fortunately, it would change direction until it found a way out, so it was never completely marooned or needed intervention.
By the end of the first weekend, our lawn had a nice, uniform length, and the MoeBot didn’t fail to initiate or finish a session. There are 3 razorblade-like cutting blades that spin at up to 3500 rpm, which was enough power to slice through the tough, wide-bladed ‘grass’ in our yard.
Grass the MoeBot S5 likes:
We were also impressed with how quiet the S5 is. While it’s rated at 65dB, which is about the level of a normal conversation, we could barely hear it once it moved a few meters away from the house.
Don’t worry, the MoeBot S5 won’t become a rogue killing machine with spinning blades of death. First, it doesn’t have giant blades underneath, just 3 small razorblade-like cutters that are placed quite close to the centre. Even if it did run over your foot, it would need to be quite the way in to get close to a blade. Second, there are bump and lift sensors that will either steer the mower away from obstacles or stop the motor. There’s also a large red STOP button placed prominently on top. Last, the mower doesn’t move quickly (about 1km/hr) so it’s not going to sneak up on you, a pet or most garden wildlife.
Still, you should take all the safety precautions you would with a conventional mower: wear closed-toe shoes and do not leave young children unattended around any motorised equipment.
The MoeBot can operate rain or shine. It’s not intended to be used in heavy downpours or high winds, however, and may get stuck in mud depending on the conditions. It has a rain sensor, and you can enable ‘rain mode’ that says that it’s okay to go out in the rain.
The MoeBot S5 is smaller and lighter than a petrol push mower. It has a pleasing streamlined design – almost sporty looking. It’s housed in sturdy plastic with rubberised bumpers running along the front and side edges. Two swivel wheels are positioned beneath the front fascia, with larger, treaded wheels at the rear. There are two flip-open panels on top, one for setting the mowing height and the other for accessing the LCD control panel. The large STOP button is right on top and easy to access. There is a cutaway at the front for the two charging poles and a grab handle at the back for carrying it.
Settings and menus
Settings, modes and schedules can be accessed from the LCD panel and buttons. You can simply press the Start button to initiate a mowing session, or the Home button to tell it to return to the charging base. There’s a spot mowing mode, which initiates a spiral pattern in case you want the Moebot to cut a specific area. Also, you can configure zones. A zone is determined by the length of the boundary cable from the base, and then a percentage of the total lawn area. You can then target a specific zone to cut, rather than waiting for the MoeBot to do the entire lawn.
A weekly schedule can be configured where you can tell the MoeBot how many hours you would like it to work per day, and what time to start. We set ours for alternating days, and 4 hours per day, starting at 9am. Once set up, you can just leave the MoeBot to go about its business, day or night, rain or shine.
If you have Wi-Fi coverage outside, you can set the MoeBot up on the home network. You can then use an app to access the same settings, and to receive notifications about battery levels, completed sessions, or if the mower gets stuck.
There’s a PIN code to access all of the settings, just in case an unauthorised person tries to fiddle with it. A ‘pick-up’ notification will be sent to your phone if the MoeBot is lifted up, however, unlike some more expensive models, there’s no GPS ‘anti-theft’ tracking .
Robot mowers have come of age. They are a safe and emission-free way to a healthier, better-looking lawn. Best of all, they reward you with more free time to do what you want. It’s also great to see that prices are coming down, and the MoeBot S5 is selling for $950. The unit is solidly built and comes with a good set of features, including cutting zones and scheduling. The S5 is ideal for small- to mid-sized lawns and we were impressed by both the freshly cut appearance of our test lawn and the S5’s ability to navigate over tricky parts of it, rain or shine.
Before you purchase, consider the convenience of access to weather-proofed power for the charging station, your appetite for manual trimming, and the security of wherever you’ll be storing your MoeBot.
For large and complex grassy spaces, some of the more expensive models from Husqvarna have articulated designs designed to handle more uneven surfaces, slopes, and higher grades. They also come with GPS anti-theft tracking.