From the beginning, I’ve been skeptical about robot lawn mowers. I imagined a robot mowing down my flower beds, and wondered why someone wouldn’t just pluck the robot off the lawn and keep walking. Heck, I don’t even think you should grow a lawn, so it’d be a leap for me to recommend a lawn mower. However, there is no denying that robot mowers are here to stay—and so I enlisted the lawns of every neighbor on my block and began testing a fleet of lawnbots.

The process has won me over for a few reasons, and I’m now a person who would recommend a robot lawn mower to most people with a lawn, if you find the right one for your space. A robot lawn mower all but eliminates the noise of mowing, removes the chore of mowing altogether, and can give your lawn a year-round consistent look. For medium to large lawns, I’d recommend the Mammotion Luba 2. It mowed with accuracy and consistency, rarely deterred by irregularities like dips, hills, holes or obstacles. At $2,899, the price is out of reach for many people, but if you regularly pay for lawn service, and/or have neighbors who can share the bot, it might just be worth it.

Robot lawnmowers aren’t just outdoor robot vacuums

It’s tempting to compare robot lawn mowers to robot vacuums, but while robot mowers have definitely benefited from everything we’ve learned from robot vacuums over the last 10 years, that may be an unfair correlation. I recently spoke with the engineering staff at Husqvarna, an originator in this space, and they helped me understand the additional challenges that robot lawn mowers face outside in the elements. Inside your home, LiDAR is likely all you need to navigate, but outside, robots need GPS. If you want your bot to mow up to the flower bed but not into the flower bed, you’re talking about precision that comes down to inches. The same is true of boundaries, where your lawn might meet a neighbor’s lawn. For this reason, most lawnbots once relied on buried wire to define the spaces they worked within. It’s only in the last few years that these bots have gone wireless, trusting the GPS to keep them on the straight and (sometimes) narrow. 

Luba 2 assembly and installation

The Luba 2 requires a fair amount of assembly: There’s the robot itself, which needs a few parts like the bumper connected and screwed in, and then there is the GPS tower and the dock, both of which need some assembly, too. It took an hour to unbox all the components, assemble them, and then find an appropriate place for the base to live and get everything installed at the site. There are also additional components to consider, like a garage ($149 on pre-order), which is just a cover for the robot since it is otherwise exposed to the elements, and a wall mount for the GPS unit ($79 on pre-order)—both of which take time to assemble, too.

The Luba 2 features four equally sized tough wheels across a long, low body. (More later on why this particular shape makes the bot more resilient and results in those highly treasured lines in the lawn.) While the robot is mostly okay in the elements, Mammotion is clear that the garage does help protect your investment. Among other things, it helped conceal the robot a bit when it was docked—and even the most weatherproof device could benefit from shelter. The GPS tower does not need to be installed at the same location as the dock, but if you position the dock right, it can be. The tower needs direct line of sight to the sky, and always needs to have direct line of sight to the robot. Sometimes, this is best served by the tower and dock being in two different locations, but in my case, I was able to locate them close to the house, together, without it being a problem. This has an additional benefit of allowing both the robot and tower to share one electrical plug. If you separate them, you’ll have to snake the cord for the tower back to the outlet, and I struggled to understand how you’d do this safely without burying it, or the robot would go right over it. Pro tip: once the robot is up and running, you’ll never pick it up—there’s a remote control function. Assemble it close to the location you’ll place the dock, because it is a bear to carry around. 

Lots of settings allow you to fine tune the look of your lawn

Most interactions you’ll have with your new robot mower takes place in the app, and I was worried that my wifi wouldn’t be sufficient through the yard, or it would be a bear to pair. That wasn’t the case, and this is the only lawnmower I’ve tested that paired on the first try. The mesh provided by some new Nest Pro wifi points covered my neighbors’ whole yard well enough to work (remember, I was mowing their lawn), and I found that even at the farthest reaches of their yard where the signal was weak, the Luba 2 responded just fine. Each time you want to use the robot, you’ll need to connect to it, which means you need to be in range. Mammotion, like a lot of these robots, relies on a mix of Bluetooth, wifi and 4G. You won’t be controlling the robot from your vacation home (although you can set up schedules for that). Inside the app, you can control how short the grass should be cut and what pattern you want the robot to take across the lawn, from a few zigzag patterns to checkerboard. These settings don’t just affect the lawn’s appearance, but how effective the lawn is mowed. I tried all the settings over the course of a month and it turns out, a randomized zigzag produced the best mowing results. Each time you send the robot out on an unscheduled run, you can choose how many times it should circle the perimeter and how it should approach obstacles. The Luba offers options that favor bump and go, LiDAR or both, and generally, I found the best coverage with bump and go only, which surprised me. When I just let the robot experience obstacles by bumping into them, and having to navigate around them, rather than seeing them with LiDAR and trying to avoid them, I got smaller areas of avoidance. 

The Luba 2 makes a number of passes on the lawn, so even cutting this long lawn down, it’s unbothered. By the time it makes a second pass, the clippings will be obliterated into the lawn.
Credit: Amanda Blum

Telling the mower where to cut is a lot of fun

Unlike vacuums, which just venture out from the dock, visualize and map the space on their own and then go about cleaning, most robot lawn mowers including the Luba 2 require you to manually map the space. The robot goes into a remote control mode, and you walk behind it and navigate the perimeter of the space. This part was strangely fun. You can map additional “no go” zones within a space, but I generally allowed the robot to figure that out on its own, since it would bump into a raised bed and navigate around it. If you had a flower bed without a defined wall, you’d map it as a no go zone. You can map as many spaces as you want, and then connect them by building walkway paths between them. When you want to mow, you just choose the areas you want, and the mower will navigate to them using the walkways.

Concerns about security and safety are probably unwarranted

One of my concerns was that someone would steal the mower, and to be honest, makers of these robots don’t help in that area. The units light up at night like a beacon, with bright lights on the GPS unit and the robot itself. The garage helps hide it a little, and I turned the GPS unit so the light was aimed towards the house, but in the darkness, it’s still quite easy to see. I live in an area where people do swipe things from entryways, and yet, in five weeks, the Luba 2 was more a curiosity of the neighborhood than a target. The first week, I watched it each time it ran, out of concern for the robot and flower beds—and more interesting than the robot was the neighbors reaction. Everyone would stop walking and stare. They’d take pictures, and minutes later more people would arrive and they’d all stare together. Cars stopped and reversed to double check that it was, in fact, a robot. They’d talk to each other about the robot and ask questions. 

This led to the second concern I had about the robot, which was liability and safety. While on a lawn, it’s likely not to encounter other humans or animals, certainly not at the rate it moves (about half the speed of a human mowing). However, as it navigates sidewalks and driveways between mowing areas, it might encounter them. The Husqvarna team helped explain that this is the main distinguishing feature between vacuums and mowers—that for the latter, safety had to be the first priority. For that reason, all robots have a giant kill button on them. The Luba 2 has a big “STOP” button on it that’s easy to hit. Also, the mower itself is actually much smaller and less threatening than it is on traditional mowers, it’s just a few very small blades in the dead center on the bottom of the robot. The moment the robot is lifted or moves from a flat position, the mower stops. I tried a number of times to create scenarios where the blades could encounter a dog, cat or kid, and each time, the mower simply stopped. 

The Luba 2 is able to navigate terrain better than other lawnbots

There are a few assessments you should make before you get a robot lawn mower—like how big your lawn is, and how level. Some mowers are better at inclines, and some are better for small lawns that require navigation around a lot of tight spaces. The Luba 2 comes in models that can accommodate from 1,000 square feet up to 10,000 square feet. It’s not terrific for navigating around very tight spaces—it struggled around my path lights, for instance. Where the Luba 2 really shines is in navigating bumpy spaces. Some lawn bots struggled with even a small dip or hill, but the Luba navigated those easily, and even a big trench. This is because of the larger body with the wheels on all four corners. It was able to distribute weight in a way that the wheels were never bothered by terrain or inclines. According to the team at Husqvarna, the weight of the mower affects how well you’ll see those lines in the grass after mowing. Of the mowers I’ve tested so far, only the Mammotion has produced them. In fact, at some point in the future Mammotion plans to offer lawn printing, where you can customize what you see on the lawn.

The best features (and the ones that didn’t matter)

The Mammotion has some features that felt extraneous, like offering live video of the mower in action. It’s novel to watch the feed for a moment, but ultimately not very useful. One of the most useful features, the ability to manually control the mower via remote control, doesn’t get talked about much. Although the bot only got stuck twice in sixteen runs, rather than picking it up and walking it out, I just used the remote. Remember, the mower is heavy. What no one mentions about robot lawn mowers and should is the blessed silence. I have lived between two mow happy men for years and during the summer mowers run constantly and the noise is insufferable. Robot lawn mowers are so quiet you have to strain to hear them cutting. The cuttings themselves are so chopped up by the blades that there’s no cuttings to move off the lawn. Rather than long blades of grass, it’s just diced up and left on the lawn, and you can’t really tell, even after a big chop. Both neighbors have been really happy with the results of the robots. A little line trimming to clean up around obstacles is all that’s needed. 

Bottom line: the Luba 2 will make you confident in robot lawn mowers

Ultimately, the Mammotion won me over to robot lawn mowing. After the first week, you’ll only watch it when it leaves the dock and check back to make sure it returned. Then, you’ll grow to trust that it just does it on its own. The cost is stunning, at $2899, but when I started to think about what people pay now for lawn service, it started to make more sense. While landscapers do more than mow the lawn, taking the lawn off your plate might make the rest of the your landscape manageable for you to handle. Also, don’t overlook how much labor mowing the lawn really is—if you live alone, removing the labor might be worth it, just like not having to clean your floors inside. With the range of the Mammotion, I was able to map it to the lawns of four adjoining neighbors, meaning you could easily split the cost of the bot with others.