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Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward
Robotics, Remote Controlled Operations, Alternative Power Sources and More

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

The Federal Aviation Administration makes the classification between two kinds of drones, commercial and model. Commercial drones are those registered as such and used by a licensed pilot for a profit. The FAA calculates that commercial, small drones will number about 451,800 in 2022.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

Some drones, like the DJI Phantom pictured here, can stream 4K video directly to an app on your phone, which can be mounted onto the handheld controller, providing a bird's eye view of the landscape. An additional upgrade allows the use of goggles instead of the phone. This drone has a 7-kilometer control range and a base cost of $1,199.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

Using a drone can be a great way of capturing a project from a different perspective, which can help conduct preliminary site research, monitor the progress of the job, and highlight areas that need more attention.

Power equipment used in landscape maintenance has of course evolved over the years, but still remained pretty close to its traditional roots. However, with the emergence of alternative energy sources, robotics, remote control, the Internet of things (IOT) and more, some traditions are going by the wayside.

Help from the Sky
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles as they are properly called, presently can be controlled by an app on a smartphone or tablet, go under water, automatically follow you and reach speeds of up to 160 MPH. There are even drones whose cameras can be controlled by just moving your head.

Hank Price, spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, says that, "The small, model, unmanned aerial system fleet is forecasted to more than double in size from 1.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 2.4 million units in 2022."

In many circumstances, having a drone in your maintenance equipment fleet makes sense. Sam Krochman, CEO of an aerial photography company in Orange, Calif. called 191Above, states, "Drones have become the go-to method for contractors that want to take their company to the next level... they can be used for photos and videos for promotional reasons and even produce elevation maps and 3D models of the landscape."

High-resolution aerial imagery, commonly known as aerial maps, provide maintenance contractors with instant access to pristine, current views from all angles of properties. This can reduce costly site visits, and speed up job estimates by quickly calculating square footage, measuring the height of trees, determining the site's vegetation and observing historical data including leaf-off imagery.

Greg Zoll, of Landscape Dynamics in Riverside, Calif., states that one of the main problems with drones is their measuring precision. "We use fixed points and known measurements between objects to calibrate images for accurate measurements throughout the site," he says.

As drones continue to fly through the airspace, operators should be aware of rules and regulations regarding safety, privacy and air control.

Krochman provides these general guidelines for flying drones in the U.S.
• Fly below 400 feet
• Fly 5 miles away from any airport
• Never fly over people
• Always fly within line of sight
• Respect privacy

"It is the responsibility of the remote pilot in command to know all of the local, state and federal regulations that apply to the area where the operations are taking place," relays Zoll.
The Federal Aviation Administration has many more guidelines on their website,, including the option to
register your unmanned aerial vehicle, and a test to receive your remote pilot certification.

"For a drone to be successfully used in landscaping, there needs to be a licensed pilot, the right permissions and safety,
a quality drone and a company that can adhere to all those things," Krochman concludes.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

With the help of electronic sensors and the ability to tilt and adjust as needed, robotic mowers can move in a pattern to ensure an entire area is mowed without the supervision or control of operators. This Automower 450x is waterproof, so it can work in inclement weather conditions as well.

Look Ma, No Operator
An interesting innovation that is taking place in commercial lawn mowing is robotics - allowing the machine to perform without supervision while other work is attended to.

Quite a few robotic mowers are marketed only as personal mowers for homeowners, but professional use of other models is growing. Natureworks, a Massachusetts landscaping company, has been using them on some of their accounts for about three years and currently has 20 such mowers, each costing around $2,000, in service.

Robotic mowers use rechargeable batteries as power sources, and a few models use solar energy to recharge them. As far as runtime/charge time ratios, LC/DBM's research found a varied range: from one able to run for an hour and recharge in 50 minutes, to one with a runtime of only 45 minutes but needing 90 minutes to recharge.

Certain mowers require information, such as start time, to be input at the units themselves, while others can receive information via smartphones using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. One model is programmed to sense rain and abstain from mowing during wet weather, but operators can deactivate the rain sensor if necessary.

Wires can be set around the perimeter of a yard to define the work area for the mowers. They use built-in sensors to detect obstacles.

Some models are "multi-zone" mowers, which can be programmed to move between different areas of a lawn or even to take themselves from the front lawn to the back one. Certain robotic mowers can even tend up to four zones on one property if necessary.

And this multi-zone technology may pave the way for mowers with geospatial technology - using GPS data to define a mowing area instead of physical boundaries. However, this kind of technology is limited at this time according to

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

The Spider 3RIDER combines remote controlled operation with a ride-on option. Once the slope gets too steep for ride-on mode, the operator can get off, remove the operator's panel, and use it to continue to guide the mower's movements.

Managing from a Distance
Another relatively recent mower innovation is remote control operation.

One situation in which landscape professionals might benefit from the use of this type of a machine is when ground conditions, such as steep slopes, makes it very dangerous for an operator to be on or next to a mower.

Another is when traditional mowers and operators cannot fit into an area that requires maintenance. In Australia, remote control Spider ILD02 mowers tend to turf that is located under delicate solar panels which are low to the ground. Ride-on mowers cannot fit under the panels, and there is a risk of expensive damage when using reach or swing arm mowers.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

The Solar Lawn Truck by Super Lawn Technologies has panels on top that convert solar energy into electricity to recharge commercial-grade, 82V lithium-ion battery-powered tools inside the truck (inset), giving landscape professionals the ability to maximize efficiency and performance with smarter battery management.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

Avant Tecno's e5 loader is powered by a lead acid battery unit and an integrated battery charger that works off of a 230V / 10A power outlet. The machine can also be operated while the battery is charging, and with the company's quick attach system, can be outfitted to perform numerous maintenance tasks.

Green Power Grows
Maintenance equipment that runs on batteries continues to become more effective, and more efficient at managing their power sources. While the technology is still a work in progress, many companies are currently developing tools that deliver the performance that professionals expect with the added benefits of zero emissions, zero gas, low noise and lower maintenance.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

With Horizon Technology, engine and PTO hours can be tracked for up to five properties a day. This information can then be entered into a spreadsheet or tracking software to help determine if a given property was bid properly. And with PIN code security built in, fleet managers can keep tighter control on that information as well as maintenance information.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

The Smart Controller offered on select Lazer Z S-Series commercial zero-turn riding mower models is an operator interface that shows interlock status, PTO and total hours, fuel level, maintenance reminders and machine health status. On-screen alerts include fuel level, engine temperature, oil pressure, charging system status and PTO clutch overcurrent/reset. Also included is a Limp Mode feature, which disables the cutting system in the event of a critical system error, to prevent permanent damage to the machine.

Maintenance Equipment Moves Forward

This console-mounted LCD monitor screen provides an easy-to-use interface and three multi-function push buttons that let the operator select from the three defined operating modes, choose from six customizable engine speed set points for the Low, Efficient and Max modes, with the power takeoff (PTO) engaged or not, and navigate through the menu screens.

Controls at Your Fingertips
Riding mowers are beginning to incorporate onboard computer interfaces that provide landscape companies a number of benefits.

For example, Exmark's RED Technology offers enhanced monitoring of vital mower functions and reporting of operating and property statistics, maintenance reminders and troubleshooting information.
It is linked to the mower model and serial number, allowing accurate tracking of service and usage data. RED Technology eases fleet management by tracking machine health and delivering on-screen notifications when engine or transmission oil changes are due. When the system detects an error, the error/troubleshooting code is displayed as text on the screen. Service history and error codes are also logged for reference later.

Operating statistics include total gallons of fuel used; average gallons of fuel used per hour; and both resettable and non-resettable engine and PTO hour meters. And there are property statistics/trip meters for up to 5 properties that also track engine hours, PTO hours and gallons of fuel used.

The technology also works with the electronic fuel injection and e-governor to quickly adapt to changing mowing conditions by increasing engine responsiveness and reduce governor droop, keeping engine RPM more consistent.

Chris Vostman, the marketing manager at Toro, reports that the Horizon Technology found on some of their models is very similar in its functionality including tracking PTO hours separate from engine hours.

"A lot of guys like to service spindles and blades based on cutting hours and this allows for that," he says. "And a crew lead can see how many hours the guy was cutting versus not cutting so there is a little bit of accountability built into it.

The technology also has three engine operating modes to deliver the power needed for the specific conditions.

"So if you are in thick soupy grass you can put it in max mode and that will deliver really strong power without any RPM droop from the engine," states Vostman.
In the efficient mode, he says that operators can experience up to 20 percent savings on fuel. The technology comes with a factory set point for average use but can be customized as needed; an industry exclusive according to Vostman.

While monitoring the machine's health - engine temperature, oil pressure and the electrical system - if any factory-defined thresholds are exceeded, a visual and audible warning is given and the unit goes into safe transport mode so you can get back to the trailer. On the diesel models, the technology also monitors the Tier 4 regeneration process as well. And on all models, operator defined maintenance intervals can be set, and a visual and an audible alert - loud enough to be annoying - serve as reminders.

"This is definitely the direction the industry is starting to head as more operators and fleet managers get adapted to it, and find it a benefit," Vostman says when talking about onboard technology - but he may as well be talking about all the advancements taking place in landscape maintenance equipment.

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August 19, 2019, 10:20 am PDT

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