Someday, many years from now, our grandchildren, following the family tradition of passion about robotic mowers, will ask us to tell them about the evolution of the industry. Then they will repeat the question louder, in order to wake us up from our afternoon siesta. Once awakened, we will regale them with tales of boundary wires giving way to GPS learning and then full RTK wireless technology. And then, we will reveal the greatest chapter in the evolution of position mapping for robotic mowers. We will tell them of when RTK and vision technology combined forces, like the Justice League, to defeat location inaccuracy.

OK, maybe we won’t be quite that dramatic. But we could be. After all, RTK and vision technology working together make robotic mowers infinitely better at knowing exactly where they are on your property. And that leads to even more efficient cutting of your grass with even less hassle for you.

Let’s dive into explaining exactly how RTK and vision tech working together is yet another innovation making robotic lawn mowing even better.

The Evolution of Robotic Mower Technology: Why RTK and Vision Got Together

Ever since robotic mowers were first released, the same question has been asked: how do you get it to stay in the area you want it to mow? After all, you don’t need to be using your resources to mow your neighbor’s yard. And you certainly don’t want your new toy wandering off into that creek at the back of your property.

One way is to have physical boundaries around your property. A robot lawn mower that hits anything with its bumper will turn around.  

But of course, that’s not very practical. So one innovation that robotic mower manufacturers have come up with is a boundary wire. You bury that around the area where you want the mower to go. When the mower’s sensor reaches that wire, the robot turns around. 

Using a boundary wire is a great innovation, but there are a few issues with this solution. The biggest, of course, is that you have to bury a wire around your property. And that wire tends to break. The boundary-wire model also means that the mower will cut a random pattern, and it will not hit all areas of the enclosure equally at all times.

why gps couldn’t solve the problem

You might be thinking, once GPS technology (along with cellular data and wifi connection technology) improved, couldn’t you use that instead of boundary wires? Unfortunately, no, not really.

The problem is that GPS is not designed to be as precise as a robotic mower needs. Think about when you are use GPS to get directions. As long as the system knows where you are within a few feet, you are generally fine. (In fact, most everyone can tell a story of using a GPS map only for it to think you turned down a street you didn’t.) Another main use for GPS is tracking. Again, being within a few a few feet is fine for tracking. But robotic mowers need much more precision than just being within a few feet; you need pinpoint accuracy when defining lawn boundaries and obstacles to avoid.

That doesn’t mean that GPS didn’t help improve robotic mowers, as it definitely did. It allowed robotic mowers to track rough location and create much more efficient and equitable cutting patterns. It also allowed users to track a lost or stolen robotic lawn mower. In other words, GPS led to improvements but still within wired models.

What is RTK?

So when RTK (which stands for real-time kinematic) technology finally became available for robotic mowers, it was a game-changer.

See, when it was first developed, RTK was used mostly in the agriculture and construction industries. But within the last few years, the technology has become cheaper and more readily available for consumer-level products at more reasonable prices.

Why does that matter? Well, RTK allows for more precision in a robot mower’s mapping, down to within a few centimeters. So with an RTK model, boundary wires were finally gone. (We just about dislocated a hip, we were so excited!)

With these models, a user maps out the area where they want the robot mower to go. (Sometimes by driving the mower around the boundary and sometimes by drawing the boundary in an app.) The mower uses RTK to stay within that boundary. And, of course, the mower can decides upon an even more efficient cutting pattern.

How does it work? Well, in many ways, RTK technology is GPS on steroids. (But without the danger of shrinking any ball bearings!) Basically, the mower uses GPS satellites but also uses a reference antenna as well. In most versions (such as the Husqvarna EPOS, Mammotion Luba, and Sunseeker Orion X7), the RTK reference station is installed somewhere on your property, what is called a “localized RTK reference station.” However, in some models, like the Kress RTKn models, the reference station can be offsite (“network-based RTK stations”).

How Do Vision and RTK Technologies Work Together?

Robotic lawn mower manufacturers continue to up the game, though.  While RTK technology is excellent, it’s not perfect. There are still moments where the robot mower will lose connection and, thus, lose its place on your property. The main issue is that if the mower is under heavy tree cover or some other sky blocker (yes, that’s a technical term), it can lose connection with the satellites.

That’s where vision tech can support RTK and bring even greater precision to your lawn.

What is Vision Technology?

Vision technology basically involves high-quality cameras on the robotic mower. These cameras serve a variety of purposes:

  • They help the mower create a visual map of your property. That way, if the robot loses satellite signal, it still knows right where it is on your property and keeps going.
  • They help the mower make adjustments automatically. For example, the robotic mower can see changes in slopes and can even see when it has traveled into an area that is not grass (even if you forgot to map it as such.)
  • They enhance obstacle detection. All robotic mowers have bumpers. And when those bumpers hit something, the mower will turn and/or stop operation. And of course, your maps will help show the robotic mower obstacles.  But robotic mowers with vision technology can spot taller obstacles that might be unexpected from a further distance. For pets, wildlife, and younger children, that functionality is particularly helpful. Again, no robot mower would ever cause any injuries. However, ones with vision tech that can stop a further distance away can reduce confusion or potential anxiety.
  • They help you find the robot mower if it is lost or stolen.

(You can read more about the shift to wireless options and the rise of vision tech in our look at automated lawn mowing trends.)

What Are the Benefits of RTK and Vision Together?

Some may argue that RTK and vision technology feels redundant. And honestly, it is.  But…that is actually the point! 

With RTK alone, you have moments where the robotic mower will need to stop and recalibrate to understand where it is. With RTK and vision technology together, your robotic mower can continue to operate for a limited time while it reestablishes a stronger signal. In other words, RTK + Vision=reduced interruptions and increased cutting efficiency.

Plus, vision technology and RTK working together lead to an even more intelligent mower. The vision technology will help the robotic mower understand where your lawn has roots, a rocky patch, etc. This creates an even more high-quality cut.

Robotic Mower Models that Offer RTK and Vision Technology

In our ever-innovating industry, there are already several models that have both RTK and vision technology enabled. One is the Mammotion Luba 2, which is one of the reasons why we speak highly of the new Lubas. The Sunseeker Orion X7 and the Navimow by Segway also both use a combination of RTK and vision. Also, the Yarbo (which actually extends beyond robotic mowing into snow removal and eventually, all kinds of cool stuff) also is enabled with both RTK and vision tech.

We also regularly see young startup companies like Roboup, Kowoll and others using some variations of RTK and vision technology together. Both of those companies are still in developmental stages and have limited availability for their products at present. So, we’ll find out which ones stick. But both are being heavily backed on crowdfunding platforms. Therefore, it’s obvious that there is an interest from both consumers and these new companies to employ both vision and RTK technologies.

Given the benefits of having vision tech and RTK working together, we would expect more companies to work toward this solution as well. In fact, we would expect that the RTK+vision combo will become the standard relatively soon. Of course, we will continue to update our blog and the Autmow YouTube channel with more models as they become available.

But for now…back to our siesta! (What? Who says we can’t enjoy a dad nap even at middle age?)