About four years ago, robotics enthusiast Steven Waelbers was sitting with his father watching the snow fall outside his home in Belgium when dad had an idea. That conversation formed the backbone of a what later became known as the Kobi Co., and offers an example of what the future might hold for snow removal and turf mowing.
Dad proposed, “Instead of building your fun robots, you should build one that can push my snow away so I don’t have to go outside,” says Waelbers, the company’s co-founder and CTO. “I said OK, challenge accepted.”
At this year’s Green Industry & Equipment Expo in Louisville, Ky., Kobi introduced a multi-functional autonomous robot that can remove snow, mow turf, and clear leaves while reducing the demand for workers to handle the tasks themselves. The machines are operated by GPS and a suite of sensors and feature Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile data connectivity so that grounds managers can monitor weather forecasts and use the machine accordingly. Built-in safety features such as a camera and sensors help detect objects that require shutdown.
The company’s plans are to market the robot to the residential market next year and enter the commercial market in about two years. In Louisville, Waelbers says he received inquiries from a couple of university representatives interested in the machines.
“It’s very interesting because of tight budgets, and they’re looking to use the money they have in the tightest of ways possible,” Waelbers said. “With robots, they don’t have to have a person out there doing all the work.”
Husqvarna also had a robotic lawnmower on display, the Automower, that is also marketed to the residential market. Described as an all-weather, all-terrain mower that also operates via GPS with the ability to monitor mower settings and track location on cellphones.
The battery-powered ability of the machines also helps institutional and commercial facilities with sustainability initiatives.
“(Robotic mowers) are big in places like resorts and hospitals, where noise is a bit of an issue,” says Christian Johnsson with Husqvarna. “It’s quiet, you can’t hear it, and it’s less intrusive.”
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