Georgia Southern University purchase this week of an autonomous lawn mower that does not require an on-board operator may actually be the first retail purchase of a robotic mower in the entire nation.
Bought from McKeithen’s True Value Hardware in Statesboro, the mower is expected not to replace employees, but to allow employees to better utilize their skills in other grounds keeping areas.
“We pride ourselves on our beautiful campus,” said Adrianne McCollar, MPA, director of GS Division of Facility Services. “We want our team members to be able to focus their skills on the landscape details that the community really appreciates and enjoys.”
When Maurice Coley, the college’s landscaping superintendent, learned about the mower through talking with McKeithen’s owners, he informed the university of its availability. The university already was investigating ways to streamline its groundskeeping and become more efficient, McCollar said. “This equipment is not replacing employees. The goal is to allow our team members to use their skills on tasks that require more detail and skill.”
The mower, manufactured by Wright Manufacturing in Fredericksburg, MD, has been “in development for about two years,” said Thomas McKeithen, who along with his father Tom McKeithen, own McKeithen’s True Value Hardware on Hwy. 67. GS purchased the mower from McKeithen’s, and “It is the first one to be sold retail in the country, as far as I know,” Thomas McKeithen said.
Between 30 and 40 such mowers have been tested through partnerships between Wright and commercial landscapers, so far. The mowers are not yet available to the general public yet, he said.
The mower operates like regular stand-up mowers, except for the autonomous option. A human operator “cuts a perimeter, just like regular stand on mowers,” McKeithen said. “Then a computer maps out a path” and relays the information to the mower as to where the grass needs to be cut, he said.
An operator does not need to drive the mower, but must be within range of the mower, which can also be operated by remote control. There are five on-board cameras that can sense whether an object is in the way or someone enters the mower’s oath, according to McKeithen.
The mower, which is powered by gasoline, costs between $30,000 and $35,000. For now, the mower is available for commercial use only, “made to order according to customer specifics,” he said. “I think it will grow as more users start to deploy the mowers.”
McCollar said the university is excited its new piece of equipment.
“As our team members get used to the technology, we believe that we will be able to use this mower in many areas across our campuses,” she said. “This unit will be used extensively in large open areas like our recreation fields.”
McKeithen said the mower has been in development for two years. That is about the same amount of time GS has been considering purchase of similar machines.
According to McCollar, “Autonomous technology has been around for more than a decade. We began really looking at this technology, the manufacturers producing it and distributors, around two years ago.
“Autonomous mowers and equipment are used in many commercial operations,” she said. “Frankly, we did not know we (GS) were the first to purchase one, but I think our use of this technology does speak to the university's ongoing quest to be more efficient and innovative.”
More information about Wright Manufacturing can be found online at https://www.wrightmfg.com/
Holli Deal Saxon is a Herald writer and may be reached at (912) 243-7815.