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Segway's robot mower spared me from my least favorite chore

It's expensive, but at least it trims grass with minimal supervision.

Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

I’m sure some of you have looked at robo mowers as Roombas for your yard but, sadly, many of them require you to install a boundary wire around the perimeter of your lawn. And any product that requires you to dig a trench is the opposite of what “low effort” means to me. That’s why I was interested in trying Segway’s Navimow i105, its £945 (around $1,200) GPS-equipped mower which eliminates that busywork. And keeping your lawn neat and tidy is a job that’s all busywork.

Ask a gardener and they’ll tell you the secret to a great lawn is to seed a piece of flat land and then mow it into submission. Regular, militant mowing kills off all the other flora, ensuring only grass can grow until everything looks well-manicured. But that relentless mowing requires a lot of time, a luxury I’ve never had. It’s the sort of job a robot mower was born to do, given it can scuttle around and trim grass without you there.

Segway’s i Series is the company’s latest, more affordable offering compared to its pricier S Series. The new units have a smaller battery and range, with the i105 able to handle areas up to 500 square meters. Unlike some GPS mowers, the i105 is equipped with a forward facing HD camera with a 180-degree field of vision. So while it relies on satellites for positioning, it’ll have enough sense to stop before it clatters into an obstacle. It’s not packing sophisticated computer vision smarts, but it’ll play safe lest it charge into a pet, inattentive family member or prized flower.

I wanted to test the Navimow because I have whatever you’d call the opposite of the platonic ideal of a Good Garden(™). My house sits at the base of a hill, with the garden built into tiers along its height, and the lawn 1.5 meters above ground level. There’s a sheer drop down its nearest edge and a foot-long drop along the side where the pathway has been cut into the ground. It’s a high-stakes test to see how accurate the unit’s positioning is, given what would happen if things went wrong. Plus, I’m not green-fingered and my lawn is usually overrun with an orgy of Borage that grows faster than I can cut it down.

Setup requires you to plant the Navimow i105’s docking station and connect it to a mains power and standalone GPS antenna. Once the unit is paired with the app, you’ll use your phone as a remote control to drive it around the perimeter of your lawn. You’ll also quickly learn that what you thought was a flat lawn has plenty of hidden bumps and dips. Which meant my first few mapping runs left with me a very wonky edge that I had to keep tweaking.

Image of the Navimow i105
Image of the Navimow i105 (Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget)

You’ll also need to give your lawn a good mowing before you run the Navimow, because it’s obviously not built to clear masses of unkempt grass. Spare a thought for me, as I was testing this during a typical British April, where we get torrential rain and bright sunshine in equal measure. And that will give your lawn — and the weeds lurking therein — time and opportunity to spring back. The unit’s obstacle avoidance made it skirt even just a sprightly patch of grass and weeds, leaving me with a patchy cut that meant I had to get the lawnmower out again.

Setup took about half an hour, which didn’t feel too onerous given there’s a fair chunk of stuff to do. Staking the GPS antenna into the ground, running the cables and locking down the charging station are all easy enough. I’m fortunate enough to have no tall buildings or obstacles blocking my GPS signals, either. Once it was all working, all I had to do after the initial run-around was let it work its magic without supervision. And, on flat ground in fair weather, Navimow does all you could ask it to do.

Bear in mind that the Navimow will have the same limitations as any other robotic domestic aid (like a robovac). The cutting blades sit underneath the center of its body so it can’t do edges unless you opt to have the machine ride beyond its boundary. If you can’t do that, then you’ll need to get a weed wacker to trim the unreachable edges of your turf. But I’ll admit, I’m very much an edge case compared to most folks.

I was deeply concerned about leaving the Navimow out in the weather, but the company said its IP66 rating for water- and dust-resistance meant I shouldn’t worry. The company will sell you a canopy that can sit on top of the charging station to protect it from the elements. You’ll have to bring the unit indoors from the end of fall to the start of spring each year, but that’s hardly a shock.

That’s a relatively minor gripe, however, and I’ve enjoyed the ability to set this thing to run out on a regular basis. Once the inclement weather and weed growth subsided, the unit showed its worth eliminating around 90 percent of the busywork I would otherwise have to do. The fact I have a neat lawn that only needs a quick trim around the edges has been a delight. And I’ve spent more time in the garden now than I would otherwise given that it’s nice by default, rather than needing a mow.

Fundamentally, if you have a patch of ground you’d like to see become a lawn and don’t have time to do it yourself, take a look at this. It may not be the set-and-forget solution you could hope for, but it’ll reduce the amount of effort to almost nothing. And, while it costs a grand, if it lasts more than a couple of years, it’ll work out cheaper than hiring a gardener to do the same job.