Sharp-eyed drivers have spotted what appears to be an unmanned mower cutting the grass on the Garden State Parkway.
Their eyes aren't deceiving them.
There are six lawn care versions of a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner cutting the grass on the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, and each one costs $83,000.
The mower, known as a TRAXX-RF, is manufactured by Texas based Alamo Industrial and deployed in areas that are deemed too hazardous for a mower operated by a person, said Thomas Feeney, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority which runs both highways.
They're used on terrain where a conventional riding mower could be in danger of rolling over, he said.
"They are used in retention basins, catch basins, and on steep embankments where conventional mowing may be unsafe - that is, in areas where conventional mowers don't fit or where the slope of the terrain is too steep," Feeney said . "The Authority has been using them since 2014."
The Turnpike Authority joins contractors in North and South Carolina, which also use remote controlled mowers to cut lawn and brush on rough terrain on the sides of highways. The mower is operated by a maintenance worker who uses a remote control with joysticks to control speed and steering, according to the company's website.
The Alamo Traxx remote control mowers aren't cheap because they roll on treads similar to a bulldozer, rather than on tires. The purchase price for one mower is $83,856 and the authority bought four for $335,424 in 2014 and contracted in February to buy two more for $178,764, according to authority documents.
A North Carolina contractor is saving time and money by employing robots.
Don’t worry, the robots look less like Arnold Schwarzenegger and more like a normal lawnmower. And they aren’t made by Skynet, but rather by a company called Traxx RF.
But these mowers are remote-controlled and that’s been a business boon for Dixie Lawn Service, according to a report from WCNC TV. The company has begun deploying the robots for highway detail contracts maintaining interstates with contracts from both the North and South Carolina departments of transportation.
“We’ve taken our crews of say six crew members and we’ve cut them down to two,” Dixie Lawn Service’s Jimmy McHenry said. “Before we’ve had to put people with hand type equipment with a weedeater or a chainsaw and they’ll have to climb up the slope and cut that debris.”
The mowers, which cost between $75,000 and $80,000, are operated remotely up to 1,000 feet away, which keeps workers out of danger on steep inclines. And the mowers are keeping the crews safe in the hot summer months.
The robotic lawnmowers have increased Dixie Lawn Service’s efficiency by 25 percent and cut labor costs in half. Though, he said the younger workers take to the robots faster than the more season crew members.
“Typically a younger person is better at running this piece of equipment than an older person because they’re more computer savvy, they play more video games and things like that,” said McHenry.
Motorists making their way along Interstate 77 recently spotted an unusual sight.
They might have expected to see road crews working on the side of the road on a summer day, but the mowing unit working on the interstate last week included a prominent, non-human member.
Dixie Lawn Service of Kings Mountain, N.C., the company that contracts with the York County office of the S.C. Department of Transportation for roadside mowing, deployed its new remote-controlled lawn mower, a 2,500-pound device that combines the features of a riding mower with the operating principles of a toy car.
The mower, manufactured by Alamo, can cut grass on steep curves, while a workman in a yellow vest safely operates the device by handheld remote from level ground.
“This is the safest way to do it,” said Billy Lingerfelt, the area supervisor for Dixie Lawn Service. “If you’ve got an operator in a machine (on such an embankment) and it rolls over, he could get hurt.”
Called a TRAXX RF, the remote-controlled mower is a fairly new device in the lawn care industry. Dixie has only been using the $80,000 piece of equipment in the field for two weeks.
Motorists noticed the mower for several days last week, as contractors used it to cut the grass along I-77 from the Chester County line to the Dave Lyle Boulevard exit in Rock Hill.
The mower is deployed to handle jobs considered too difficult for a person. If someone on a riding mower can’t safely ride into some culverts, the work has to be done by a larger crew of contract workers wielding weed-eaters.
“It saves a lot of time,” Lingerfelt said. “I used to have 10 guys, and now I can just use one person with a remote control.”
So far, the remote-controlled mower is “doing good work,” he said, although for a part of this week the TRAXX went into the shop to get a leaky pump fixed.
These kinds of unmanned mowers are still relatively new, at least as far as anyone in road maintenance locally can remember.
“It might have been in existence for a while, but this is the first time we’ve seen it,” said Mike Bagley with York County’s S.C. DOT office.
Dixie Lawn Service plans to use its mower on jobs throughout the Carolinas, to reach under outdoor billboards and other hard-to-reach places that workers would have to clear by hand, or where the mower can provide a more nimble touch.
“We don’t want to tear up some of these slopes with a heavier tractor,” Lingerfelt said.
Because it provides so many advantages, if the TRAXX mower proves its effectiveness over time, drivers might see the strange-looking gizmo more and more often.
Bagley says Dixie is in the second year of a five-year contract to mow York County’s primary and secondary DOT roads, and Lingerfelt says he would consider adding another remote-controlled mower to the company’s fleet.
At some point, DOT might even purchase a remote-controlled mower for jobs the agency handles itself.
“We could use it,” Bagley said. “But with money as tight as it is, that would be way down the road.”
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062
Guys this is a piece of equipment that no one else has and it works on slopes like no one has seen before. This was demonstrated at the Duke Energy Beckjord power plant on the banks of the Ohio river. The photos do not do justice of just how steep the bank actually was. The only way this bank was getting mowed was by several guys that was taking days. With the help of Brian Dunleavy the demonstration was very impressive. The personnel from Duke Energy and the contractor could not find one thing negative to say, they were amazed. If anyone has any questions please give me a call.