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Robomowers let you sit back and watch the grass go

Husqvarna’s Automower 450X is made for large-size lawns and is able to cut up to 1.25 acres of grass before needing to be recharged.

Sometimes, when the sun is shining and I'm in the right mood, I take a ridiculous amount of dad pride in mowing the lawn. We're talking a Clark Griswold-esque degree of stepping back and basking in its well-trimmed, perfectly edged glory. Other times, it's one more chore eating into my scant free time.

If you usually feel that sense of peeved obligation, you've probably wondered why there isn't a robot that can take over the job. Well, there is. Many of them, in fact.

Husqvarna introduced robotic mowers in Europe in 1995. They made their way to Canada in 2000. All these years later, they remain a rare sight.

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"It's been a slow adoption," says Gent Simmons, North American product manager for Husqvarna.

More often than not, people who would rather not push a mower around hire landscapers.

But as more and more robots become a regular feature around the home – vacuuming carpets, controlling the thermostat, opening the front door as you near it after a long day of work – robomowers might still have a shot.

Husqvarna recently released three new "Automowers," which join an increasingly popular product category (and, in case you were wondering, iRobot Corp Inc., the company behind the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, is developing its own robot mower; unfortunately for it, the name "RoboMow" is already taken by another player in the marketplace).

Husqvarna's three new mowers are designed for lawns of different sizes. The 450X, for instance, is made for larger lawns and can cut up to 1.25 acres.

All of them, however, share certain basics of set-up and operation: Lay a very thin loop wire around your lawn and any other obstructions, such as trees or shrubs, then mount the home-base charging station on the side of your garage or a similar structure. You can also program when to send the mower out. Essentially, that's it. Kick back on the porch with a cold drink and watch as the mower leaves home base to do the work for you.

It will automatically return to the charging station when the battery gets too low, Simmons says. The machine uses razor blades to cut the grass, which, according to Simmons, means that "your quality of cut is always going to be better."

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That said, because robot mowers cut in a random fashion, they won't provide a pattern of neat rows, says Peter Sawchuk, chief test engineer for lawn and garden equipment for Consumer Reports.

"It doesn't look the same. And that is going to bother people in North America," he says.

And while you won't be heaving a machine around, you will have to keep an eye on it, says Sawchuk, who has tested several models. For example, wheels can get caught in divots or small depressions and just keep spinning.

"It's not 'set it and forget it,'" Sawchuk says.

Still, they are "immensely popular" in Europe, according to Sawchuk, and more manufacturers are working on entering the North American market.

As for hydro consumption, the Automowers draw only about as much electricity as a light bulb, Simmons says.

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A more pressing concern might be the machine running over your dog or taking a wrong turn and heading off down the road. However, safety features are included. If the machine is lifted, it shuts down; if it makes contact with an object, it is redirected; and if it doesn't sense the installation, it won't work.

"It won't run over your neighbour's flower bed," Simmons says. "There's no chance of it going rogue."

Of course, you can also start and stop the mower through an app.

It all sounds like easy street, but it doesn't come cheap. The Automower 450X has a suggested retail price of $3,999.

There are less expensive models on the market, both by Husqvarna and other companies. But you're still looking at spending about $2,000 on the low end to enjoy the bright new robo-lawn future.

The Automower line is available through husqvarna.ca.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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