Robotic lawn mowers tested at UNK
The University of Nebraska at Kearney is utilizing technology to improve efficiency on campus and reduce costs as well as environmental impacts. For the past two weeks, they have had two new additions to the grounds keeping crew: "Snips" and "Chopper," Husqvarna automowers which run off electricity.
"Everything we do, we're trying to be as efficient and as flexible as possible with the resources that we have. Utilizing technology allows us to do that," said Michael Cremers, the Assistant Director for UNK Facilities Management. He says that they hope to expand this sort of application to other areas of campus.
The autonomous mowers work together to tackle large areas, each with a designated zone. A buried guide wire marks these zones, and if a mower encounters it, it stops, turns a bit, and continues on. They have a slightly random, zig-zagging pattern which over time covers the whole zone. If they do encounter a patch of higher grass, they will spend time spiraling around it to even out the space. Cremers says there is some GPS assistance, but they are not completely reliant on it.
The automowers go out any time of day, and maintain a consistent height to the grass. This keeps it more under control than a once-a-week mow would yield. UNK estimates 120 man-hours a week to maintain the lawns on campus, nearly 150 acres. Using these mowers will free up those employees to work on other aspects of maintenance and beautification.
The final aspect of these mowers is security. When they are out dodging trees, if someone comes by to pick it up and walk away with it, an alarm sounds and a notification is sent to Facilities Management. Cremers was confident in their own self-security.
This isn't the only way UNK is using technology to increase campus efficiency. Last year, they installed "smart sprinklers," which uses a weather station on campus to regulate watering schedules. Additionally, they anticipate they charging stations for the automowers coluld one day be powered with solar panels, further trimming the cost.