R/C Lawnmower


[Johndavid400] built this incredible looking R/C lawnmower. After spending some time repairing broken R/C cars, he wanted to move on to something a little more useful and powerful. He decided to build a mower. He’s using a transceiver set from ebay, with an Arduino interpreting the signal and outputting to his custom motor board. In the video after the break, you can see that the mower looks responsive and quick. He does note, however, that he had some glitches early in the process that left him with a runaway mower. We covered a very similar mower ages ago that used a wheelchair as the base.




[via littlebirdceo]

56 thoughts on “R/C Lawnmower

  1. What about a second microcontroller acting as a ‘dead man’ switch?

    Monitor some conditions…like, mower orientation (if it flips over), time since last verified remote controller input, time/distance since last turn event, etc.

    If it appears to be out of the user’s control, cut power to the main control board, motors, and engine.

  2. It needs two weed wackers on the front corners. That would allow it to cut the grass along a fence line and get the stubborn patch in the corner of a fence.

    I have difficulty controlling RC devices. If I were using it I would also need to add a “dumb user” interface such that the controls are always based off the users perspective regardless of the mowers orientation. However that would probably require a mower with a zero turn radius.

  3. I Think the Arduino is just there for effect really, I’ve been using the electronics out of rc servos for a while to drive dc motors, theres pages on the net describing how to beef up the driving transistors to drive bigger motors, the only usefull adition would be an elevon mixer to handle the steering, having said that the concept it good, a playback function would be cool, or maybe run a wire around the borders of the lawn and have a magnetic pickup on the mower so that it knows where the lawn borders are, any uC could handle that.

  4. The project is cool but I don’t get the american obsession with lawns. Why don’t you just pave it all with concrete and put down a green rug if you’re keep trimming it like that.

  5. @Hackius… Concrete is expensive, retains a lot of heat, and is rough on the knees when playing sports. Besides, real grass is an oxygen producer and looks better than plastic Astroturf-type of grass.

  6. Okay I don’t give a damn what controller he used this is just plain cool. :-)

    I’m now kind of wondering though…

    It would be fairly easy to replace the R/C portion of this with the motherboard from a Roomba. Integrate a bump sensor as well as the original cliff sensors and “pick up” sensors and this would easily mow a fenced yard automatically.

    Time to get some $15 Roombas off E-Bay! :-)

  7. @Hackius: I’m an American who doesn’t get it either…I hate my yard, but all I know is if I don’t mow it, “the city” gets pissy. Anyone wanna help lay down some green rug? ^_^

    Crazy, I was just looking at this very project last night.

  8. Awesome project.

    For an upgrade, I’d add a bluetooth GPS to the mower and a computer interface using Python to create automated mowing. Probably some sensors for fine tuning… Of course there would be a lot more work for correcting bad GPS signals, but I think this model could be completely automated (and for much less than the commercial $2k models.)

  9. I actually have an Arduino shield designed and built that adds another Atmega168 on top of the Arduino to use as a second processor for controlling an external kill switch as well as adding 2 more R/C channels to control… for lights and/or a camera (I call it the core2duino.. haha). An Ardupilot setup on the bot would be right on with GPS and bluetooth. Thanks for all the feedback!

  10. My word. Can we see some practical projects that DON’T involve the most overhyped microprocessor platform on Earth?

    An Arduino is completely and utterly pointless in this design. Just go get yourself an off-the-shelf radio control system you’d use in an RC car. Is that not hard?

  11. Im with Anon, STFU Dakota.

    Personally I wouldnt mind me a remote controlled lawnmower. Especially if you could record the path and then each time just start it up at the same spot and set it free. Walk away and do something else. VERY NICE.

  12. @Sam: Wow that story is bs. I wasn’t serious(well, not actually planning it), but wow..This country is going to hell, you don’t actually own anything, atleast, that seems to be the case. Next thing ya know, sites like hackaday will have their own MPAA/RIAA type battle on its hands as more and more company’s strive to convince consumers they are really only buying the rights to access and use the electronic device, and not own the device itself…

  13. @Coffeeman: What’s wrong with a standard R/C failsafe then? Turn off the controller or lose range and it kills the throttle. It really is that this project could’ve been done with just R/C stuff for anyone willing to put the time/effort in. Anyway, I’m not with the people hating the Arduino, it’s a very versatile platform, easy to code, big community support, cheap and makes everything upgradeable easily; so really, what’s not to love?

  14. Nicely done! And to the arduino haters, how about you build one with a different chip? Show us your skills or don’t comment.

    I’ve been wanting to build one myself, specially since my rear drive mower threw the transmission, but I’m too busy with work and freelance stuff. To the guys who think the arduino is not necessary, check the commercial units. They have a cpu to smooth the steering and attitude of the unit (stay on a straight line when you push forward). This is something the project creator needs to polish in the code, as I can tell from the video and his mention of loss of control in the instructable.
    I’d probably use a PIC instead and an accelerometer.
    I’ve never used an arduino, but looks like an interesting platform. The haters make me even more curious, so I’ll probably request one at work for evaluation :P

  15. @andrew
    Since I’m planning a project like this, that’s a very good question. Apart from a range of commercial units that are mostly battery-electric, there are a number of similar builds on the net, all-electric, and petrol-electric. The ones that work are based on the motor/geardrives from wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

    From a video I’ve seen these seem to be a bit of overkill as the mower was almost too agile.


    I’m thinking of something smaller moved by windscreen wiper motors with more gearing – slower, but lower power requirements.

    It’s really easy to add stuff, layers of functions and complications, but a hat tip to OP for getting the basics happening. Now he has somewhere to bolt the bumpers, camera, ultrasonic radar, IR grass scanners, big mushroom head emergency stop button … more smarts for more autonomy.

    One major variant is to mount a car alternator on the mower deck, and you can do away with the big battery. Makes sense if you are going to run an engine. I have something more modest in mind.

    Observed: skid steering, wheel or track, is simple and inviting, but very power expensive and hard on the machine. Rear wheel drive/steering like this is more practical for a mower, as is the side-by-side config with the drive wheels at the centre with castor steadying, allowing turning on the spot.

    Simple playback is a problem because of the traction and slip problems on real grass. For autonomy it has to be able to continually re-adjust it’s mental map to the position reality.

    Hey Guuuys. There is no point in hardware or software imperialism.

    I’ve done dozens of major projects around almost as many platforms. Every language and platform has its individual stengths and weaknesses. The trick is knowing when NOT to use something as the harder, or perhaps impossible, way to go. Otherwise any system that delivers your answer before you need it is good enough.

    Processing power is now so cheap that it makes sense in a robotic application like this to use a number of smaller PIC’s to take care of the real-time local grunt such as traction motor control, ultrasonic radar, CCTV image processing; and have something smarter doing the high level thinking.

    The problem I have is when a processor is used where something more repairable would be better. Render unto Caesar . . .

  16. Make it “First Law” safe. -Job #1

    The three laws of robotics also apply to Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROVs, into which category this falls.

    I built a wheeled ROV that easily had the potential for hurting someone or something if uncontrolled.

    I used RC components with a safety cutoff built into them so that upon lack of signal the thing stops by default.
    I strongly encourage anyone engaging in this type of activity to do the same.

  17. A relay held on by a monostable driven by a stay awake signal is about as close as you can get to failsafe. Send the stay awake command from the remote dependant on a button being held and it’ll stop if the rf drops, the Arduino crashes, the person holding the remote has a heart attack (assuming they don’t go into some kind of death grip)…..pretty much anything. If the mono isn’t reset in time……no power!

  18. @Riley as far as I’m concerned because they decided to do things like this it really doesn’t matter which platform they chose to use.

    *shrug* Some people just like Arduinos. And if they can produce things while the rest of the non-makers in the world sit on their asses in front of the TV then I welcome our Arduino overlords with open arms.

  19. In the above “non-makers” context I’m assuming that is symbolic to anyone who doesn’t have their work on a niche-marketing sites that target the stay at home parent>trust fund baby>soccer kid demographics.

    Some of the “non-makers” are too busy being productive in innovative careers that instead of reinventing the ‘wheel’ are evolving it’s multi-generation successors.

    If I could make the money these people do off of ad revenue and product placement I’d be making stuff and noting other makes 24/7 too. The world doesn’t really evolve around your suburb, sorry for the reality check.

  20. It seems nearly all of the rc mowers (besides the commercial versions) feature both large car batteries and also gasoline engines. It seems somewhat odd to me that they wouldn’t just affix an alternator to the mower shaft (or offset with a belt) and use only a small motorcycle or tractor battery for starting only. my $0.02

  21. @tj

    I’m just tired of reading the constant arguments. As far as I’m concerned in an age where the average person sits on his butt doing nothing we should be glad that sites like this and the projects people post are there at all.

    Oh and before you go on about _you_ please remember that just by doing what you do you aren’t the _average_ person.

    Yes there has to be a line (one led blinking for example) but constantly bitching about a particular platform is petty, elitist, and annoying.

  22. @Hackius and others wondering about the grass cutting.
    Its not an issue of it growing “a maximum of a finger or a hand in length.”, its keeping it a good length so that it is healthy and even. Not that my yard is healthy, I don’t cut it very often at all. Of course, I have tall fescue that can be around 4′ tall if it grows long enough in the summer. Yes, that is 4 feet (>1 meter). In July, this takes about 3 weeks of not cutting it.
    On topic: I’m definitely doing this with my mower. The wheels on my push mower are wearing out, so this is the perfect excuse.
    Note about GPS guidance. Unless you have a really big yard, GPS is probably not going to be accurate enough to tell the mower where it is. Most GPS systems get 3 feet precision at best (1m), and 100 feet (+30m) precision at worst.

  23. First: Nicely done. Obviously functional and works as expected. I agree, though, that what you need is a tennis umpire chair so you’re not walking around so much.

    Second: So much for going green… I don’t suppose you could take it the next step and make it battery or even solar operated?

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