Autonomous lawnmowers are coming to the U.S. in a big way. The latest proof: thousands of reservations for an autonomous, all-electric powerhouse designed for the commercial landscaping sector, as well as key talent acquisitions by the company that makes the mower from the tech giants SpaceX Starlink and Magic Leap.
The company, Scythe Robotics, believes the market conditions are primed to help push a robotic overhaul to a sector that hasn't had a substantial technology upgrade in the better part of a century.
“We are on a massive trajectory for growth,” said Jack Morrison, co-founder and CEO of Scythe. “In the few short months since we announced our Series A, we have seen interest surpassing what we had imagined with a multi-year pipeline of reservation demand. Our mower, currently fielded in three states, solves labor shortages that have persisted for years and increases the productivity of landscaping crews. This all comes with the environmental benefits of zero emissions and quieter mowing, which is very important to landscapers who play a crucial role as caretakers for outdoor environments.”
Autonomous lawnmowers already exist, of course, and there's one reason they aren't ubiquitous in the United States: the historical abundance of cheap labor in the landscaping sector. But those days are fast ending. Trends in immigration coupled with tight labor markets and a rise in wages are pushing service providers toward technology solutions.
In places like Europe, where lawns tend to be comparatively small and labor has long been expensive and tightly regulated, autonomous consumer lawnmowers have already found a ready toehold. But in the U.S. there's good reason to suspect that landscaping automation will first be proven in the commercial realm, a $115 billion sector that, despite being plagued for years by painful labor shortages, has not seen substantial technological innovation in decades.
Scythe Robotics is riding a similar wave of market forces that's helping to usher in autonomous delivery and contactless checkout. That is, the low price labor market has become largely unstable, creating massive uncertainty for employers. At the same time, consumers have largely embraced automation and convenience in favor of personalization during the pandemic. The result is a surge of automation in sectors like fast food, delivery, and now landscaping.
One anecdotal indication of the moment automation is having in the broader tech sphere comes in the form of Scythe's recent hires. The company recently added Brian Merkel, formerly a head of manufacturing and production for SpaceX Starlink, as well as a former Magic Leap lead recruiter, Jen Mongeois.
“The success of Scythe's committed reservations count showcases the pent-up demand for this technology in the landscaping industry and demonstrates M.52's ability to solve contractors' labor pains,” said Merkel, now head of manufacturing at Scythe Robotics. “These landscaping businesses are eager to transform their operations with our technology.”