0 Robotic mowers

1 Precise Path RG3.jpgIn less than a years time you will be able to have one of these amazing mowers on your golf course. This ground breaking technology four years in the making, will no doubt create a stir when they are unleashed at the Golf Industry Show in New Orleans this February. Before that happens Pitchcare gets the inside scoop with Precise Path's Brian Wheat, VP sales and marketing.

Precise Path designed the RG3 with input from experts and superintendents in the golf course and turf industry, including Dan Gamble, an inventor, former superintendent and turf consultant, Jim Kenney, CEO of the oldest family-owned Toro distributor in the U.S., and Tom Meeks, formerly the U.S. Golf Association's senior director of rules and competition. In addition to these experts, over 30 superintendents from all across the U.S. were also involved in some capacity.

Precise Path has 30 employees, all in the U.S. which have all been working on the RG3 and getting it ready for sale in the 3rd quarter 2009 in the US. Pre orders will be taken starting March 1, 2009. The product will be sold and serviced through a factory trained distributor network. Precise Path has an extensive marketing plan established, to be kicked off at the 2009 Golf Industry Show in New Orleans.

Precise have so far experienced a combination of healthy inquisitiveness (how does it work?) and genuine excitement (I can't wait to see it work!) from the turf industry. After speaking with more than 30 superintendents across the U.S., Precise feels confident that most superintendents recognise the need for robotics as critical to help the golf course industry remain competitive.

Precise have analysis that shows that golf courses that currently walk mow 300 days per year can reduce their labour hours by as much as 2700 hours (From 3600 hours needed for walk mowing to 900 hours needed for robotic mowing). These figures are really amazing and Super intendants will be forced to look at the labour savings the RG3 offers from day one. Helping golf course superintendents, owners and operators realise the benefits of robotics is the top priority, and Precise intend to be here for the long haul to support the industry in making this important technology adoption.

Long term the plan to eventually have a fleet of mowers for every aspect of cutting required on a golf course is already in the minds of Precise Path.

No doubt Pitchcare's readers have pondered will there be a need for greenkeepers in the future? With fully automated irrigation systems and now with robotic mowers soon to hit the market. Will it be a matter of time until we are the new dinosaurs? In Precise's view, there will be always a need for greenskeepers and/or superintendents. They are by no means trying to phase out the workers in the industry. They invisage the skills required for the job will change to one that requires much more technology training to do the job effectively.3 Precise Path RG3.jpg

Precise Path have already completed testing on their own private nine hole test facility this past autumn, with customer testing commencing in January 2009. The RG3 needs to be towed to each putting green with a trailer, before it is let loose to do its cutting.

What we are all wondering of course is what technology the RG3 uses. The system does not use GPS. In Precise's view, a golf course mower does not require knowledge of location throughout the world as provided by GPS, but only within the mowers local operational area on the golf course.

Thus, Precise Path Robotics is currently developing a Local Positioning System (LPS) that will provide positioning data within a golf course green at 1/10th the cost of comparably precise GPS devices.

The LPS utilises a combination of ultrasonic and infrared communications technology to precisely locate the position and orientation of the mower on the putting green. In addition to the precise location information provided by the Precise Path LPS, it also provides 360 degree obstacle detection via ultrasonic reflections, allowing the robot to know if a person or other sizable object is within a designated safety region, and, if necessary, take appropriate action to avoid the obstacle.

This feature adds a second layer of safety to the robot in addition to an on board obstacle detection system that can detect any object in front of the mower that might cause damage to the green or mower or be injured by the forward path.

Another big plus it the RG3 operates just as well at night as it does during the day, this would allow for night cutting without the risk involved currently due to poor visabilty.

Precise have done their best to anticipate any problems such grass catchers being full or in need of being emptied, they have developed solutions for any problems envisaged. In the case where a problem arises that the mower cannot recover from, the operator (superintendent or technician) will be notified via wireless remote device (about the size of a mobile phone).

The machine is completely electric and has no fluids. The mower is designed to operate on the undulating surface of putting greens, collar and surrounds. Ground speed is 1.5 meters a second, about the same speed as the top end speed of a walk mower. Therefore, it will take the same amount of time as it takes to walk mow any given green.

Should big manufacturers such as Toro or John Deere come along looking to snap up this great invention, Precise Path cannot rule it out. However, Precise Path is being built with an eye toward staying independent. They have many options to become successful, including licensing their guidance technology to other mower and outdoor power equipment manufacturers. So, whatever the future holds for Precise Path one thing is for sure it's going to be very bright!

The background of Precise Path Robotics was a spin-off of IndyRobotics, founded in 2004 by Scott A. Jones and Doug Traster to compete in the DARPA Grand Challenge - a prize competition for driver-less mobile vehicles sponsored by the central research organisation of the United States Department of Defence. Leveraging the experience and technology developed for the successful finalist entry in the 2005 Darpa Challenge (www.indyrobotracing.com), Precise Path robotics was formed and the RG3 greens mower was developed.

Scott has been building successful companies for over twenty years. He co-founded Boston Technology in 1986 (which later merged into Comverse Technologies) and is considered a pioneer in network-based scalable voicemail technology. Voice mail technology is in use by more than half a billion people. In addition to his roles with Precise Path Robotics, Scott currently serves as Chairman of ChaCha (a revolutionary new mobile search engine.)

Doug has 30 years of experience in robotic applications. He has patented six inventions and developed a wide range of technology applications including high speed data communication, automobile diagnostic equipment, and other embedded controller applications. Doug was the key technical manager for the creation of Indy Robot Racing's DARPA Grand Challenge vehicle. Doug is an Electrical Engineering graduate of the University of Texas at Austin.

Of course, you can imagine the money that has had to be spent on this project and Scott Jones has been the majority investor along with other financial backers which include a Toro golf course distributor, seven members of a high end golf club in northern Indiana, and a golf course owner/real estate developer. Precise Path has also received a grant from the state of Indiana to develop the product.

I'm sure you find yourself wondering what this technology is going to set you back. The estimated cost of the RG3 Greens Mower is only $29,900 (US); with an return on investment of $41,250 estimated annual value of increased labour productivity.

For those of you who can't make the Golf Industry Show in New Orleans why not have a look at the RG3 in action on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CwFwUBhwOw

Pitchcare thanks Brian Wheat from Precise Path for his in depth answers and Lauren Littlefield from Dittoe Public Relations (www.dittoepr.com) for organising the get together.

Article kindly supplied by Pitchcare Oceania

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