Robotics are established in manufacturing facilities and are now making their way into our communities and crop fields and your customers’ properties. For instance, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved the “Self-Drive” act to speed the deployment of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles. John Deere recently acquired robotics start-up Blue River Technology, maker of “see-and-spray” robots that affix to tractors.
In the lawn and garden segment, the number of companies offering robotic mowers is growing. And, another robotics company plans to market Tertill next spring, a solar-powered robot that weeds gardens, similar to how robotic mowers maintain lawns. I talked with Rory MacKean, CEO of Franklin Robotics, the makers of Tertill, about the topics of technology, consumer interest and the role dealers can play.
Tertill was invented by Joe Jones, who invented Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner. MacKean and Jones worked together at a company that developed robots for moving large plants in nurseries. They left that company in 2015, but wanted to stay connected in some way to agriculture and landed in the home gardening space.
MacKean says there were already enough players offering robotic mowers. (There’s now even a new LG model under development that works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.) MacKean believes the U.S. market for robotic mowers isn’t yet at the level of demand it is in Europe. Here, we enjoy mowing and it’s not necessarily a task we want to give up. Weeding is another story. And, if the company’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign is any indication, they’ve tapped a need. They reached 250% of their fundraising goal. They earned funding of $312,810 from 1,267 backers, with their original goal being $120,000.
So, where do dealers fit in? That’s yet to be determined. The company is still working out their distribution method, considering online, mass retailers and even a dealer network. However, the unit is fairly self-sustaining, in that it has limited wear parts beyond replacing string and uses natural boundaries, like edging or fencing, as opposed to the installed perimeter required by robotic mowers.
However, Tertill is only the first step. For instance, MacKean says there could be applications related to watering, with sensors placed in the ground that could connect to an irrigation system. The company is also looking at technology related to removing garden pests.
Stay in Tune
These smaller robotic/technology applications like the ones from Franklin Robotics or other companies may not yet be a fit for a dealer network. However, I encourage you to stay in touch with these trends or assign the task to somebody at your dealership.
Beyond your major manufacturer partnerships, there may be start-ups looking for what you provide, including a customer base, a retail store and sales and aftermarket experts. Or, you could be a step ahead in terms of your readiness if your manufacturers start adapting new technology solutions. On the other hand, you will be prepared to explain to customers that some technologies are gimmicks and you can offer them a better solution.
Think of yourself from the perspective of a business owner, not just a dealership. Be open to new partnerships, new technology and the new ways your customers will be living the rural lifestyle.