Editor’s Note: Alyn Brown of Level Up Development regularly contributes to RLD on technology topics. We caught up with him at the 2019 GIE+Expo for a video walk-around of some stand-out technology. Watch for that video to post soon. Meanwhile, here is his a round-up of “cool stuff.”
Wow! What an awesome GIE! Last month, I made some predictions about what cool stuff we would see. Let's see what I hit and what I missed.
Here were my predictions:
- We will see more commercial full-electric offerings, as well as more residential machines.
- There will be a hybrid machine this year. (We will review this one last).
- There will be more autonomous machines, and some of them may even work well.
- There will be the Internet of Things (IoT) connected mowers at the show. They will include technology that helps with maintenance and other functionality.
- There will be more advanced displays and touch controls on the machines. User Experience Design will show through on a few products.
Prediction: More Commercial Full Electric Offerings
There were a lot of electric machines at the show this year. More handheld equipment, and more commercial ready machines.
Mean Green launched its new Rival and its new EVO, and I liked the feel of the upgraded drives and the looks of the new machines. The new integrated hub motor/gearboxes looks great and sounds great. Gone are the noisy drives that they have used in the past.
I liked the mid-speed feel of the Rival, and the power was impressive. I may have won the competition for best wheelie at the show when I wheelied down the entire backstretch of their show course. Power is great, but it was the controllability of that power that impressed me. These two were also two of the most technologically advanced machines at the show. Their new CAN bus system, the latest full-color touch screen displays, keyless start, and IoT connected data platform were great.
Gravely launched its new full-electric commercial ZT machine, with new drives and batteries. First of all, I would like to say that I loved the interchangeable battery packs. Being able to fill the trailer with enough packs to run all day, and to be able to use the packs on other equipment (snow throwers, maybe?) is a great innovation.
I liked the hub motor/gearbox design and see a lot of potential for this machine. I do think that they need to do some more fine-tuning around the mid-range speeds. I found the machine a bit hard to control at what I would consider a trimming speed. At low speed, it was good, and at high speed, it was good. In that mid-range (where a lot of people spend a lot of time), I found it a bit laggy, and I found myself chasing the machine.
I talked to a few other people that drove it and had mixed responses. Some people loved it, but some people hated it. I think the parts are there, but it needs some more fine-tuning to go from OK to excellent.
Ferris and Briggs & Stratton both had some pretty cool stand-on proof-of-concept vehicles that highlighted the new Vanguard line of electric products. I have said this before, and I will repeat it here, it is good to see the big engine companies embracing the electrification of the ZT market that is coming.
The Ferris and Briggs Machines both looked great, but were not ready to drive. I get it. It is better to nail it with the new electrics than to have people test drive a product that is not ready, but I was disappointed not to drive one.
I am anxious to see if the other OEMs will be prepared to adopt the Vanguard electric components as a way to expedite their entry into the electric space. Electric drive systems made an impressive impact at the show; I only heard one person at the entire show mention that "the market just wasn't ready for electrics." I hope he catches on quickly that the electrics are here and are only going to get better.
I would also like to mention a machine that I did not see at the show. Ryobi launched a new full-electric ZT earlier this year. The Ryobi ZT is not intended for commercial use, and it is pretty stripped down and basic. It is also a tremendous residential machine that is easy to drive, has excellent controllability, capacity for an hour or two run-time, and it retails for around $4,000. It is a machine that is worth checking out for the residential user who wants a simple, hassle-free electric machine for their 1-2 acre yard.
Prediction: More Autonomous Machines; Some May Work Well
It was great to see Kobi display its vision-based, AI-controlled platform on a couple of Mean Green machines. They did an outstanding job with the two commercial machines that were on display, and I believe that they impressed people by showing them that a fully autonomous machine 1) can work, and 2) can be a modification of an existing machine. I was delighted to see the autonomous/manual combo machine running around outside.
Left Hand Robotics had a couple of nice-looking, large-scale, commercial autonomous machines. Companies are starting to see the advantages that autonomous can bring as the technology gets better and cheaper, and quality labor gets harder and harder to find.
There were a bunch of compact residential-style autonomous mowers at the show. It seems like over the last few years this category has steadily grown at the show, but this year it exploded. Ambrogio made its U.S. debut, and Husqvarna had quite a few new machines. Some of them looked nice.
The European market has embraced these "Roomba" like machines for years, but the U.S. has been slow to catch on. We typically have bigger yards, and yards that are not bounded by fences or other features. Companies have been working on ways to make the installation better (no boundary wires), and improvements have been made. We will see if the U.S. market starts to adopt these at the rate that everyone hopes.
Prediction: Internet of Things (IoT) Connected Mowers
I am happy to say that the Mean Green connected mower was a hit. The IoT-connected Mean Green mower is a Level Up development project. We’ve been working with Mean Green for the last few months.
I think people were a little surprised to see how far this technology has come in the previous few years, and how inexpensive of an option it had become. There were other fleet tracking systems at the show, and other blue-tooth connected to a smartphone connected machines, but I don't think there were any other truly connected machines.
We created a two-way communication platform from the Mean Green mower to the cloud that allows the continuous real-time exchange of data to and from the machine. Fleet tracking, maintenance tracking, remote CAN troubleshooting, over-the-air updates, and safety alerts, are all available now. The best news is that customers are ready for it.
Briggs & Stratton showed off its fleet management software, and I think it was pretty good. The Briggs software is not quite a full-blown IoT connected set-up, but it does allow a landscape operator to track where the machines are in the field and how they are being used. It is a good start, and a good platform for people who do not need a custom "white-labeled" type of app and are not worried about the maintenance tracking, troubleshooting, and safety functionality of a truly connected machine.
Hydro-Gear keeps dialing in their drive-by-wire hydraulic control system. This year, they were showing off a Wright Stander with drive by wire pump/motor configuration. I thought it drove well. They are getting better and better at eliminating the laggy feel typically associated with the drive by wire systems.
Hydro-Gear also showed off its new APP that they use for dialing in the drive parameters. While again, not quite an IoT connected device, it was a Bluetooth-connected app that allowed a user to customize the feel of the machine to their needs or preferences. I believe we will start to see more and more demand for customization of drive settings as users begin to appreciate the value, and the OEMs and suppliers continue to improve on this functionality.
Prediction: More Advanced Displays & Touch Controls (User Experience Design)
Spartan has some fantastic looking mowers. Unfortunately, I did not get to drive one, but they looked great. I think this is an excellent example of applying design thinking and user experience to the outdoor power equipment/ZT mower world.
Spartan could have made the same machine like everyone else, a very practical design, a very "They don't need it, so they won't pay extra for it" type of approach. They didn't. Instead, they decided to make a machine that looked great, and from my conversations with the people in their booth, it has a tone of well thought-out and well-designed engineering features as well.
Altoz has always done an excellent job of embracing good design in their products. These machines have been around for a while, and they still look great. I think their tracked ZT is an excellent attention-getter.
The Ferris stand0on looked great. It wasn’t ready for actual driving, which was disappointing, but it was a good looking machine. Features include aluminum handlebars, great lines, a fantastic display, and a cool-looking heat sink for the drive controller. The recessed deck motors were a nice touch, and the new Vanguard power pack looks great.
Delta Systems has launched its new touch screen displays for ZT, UTV and other outdoor power equipment applications. These displays look great, work well, and are not expensive. I had the opportunity to play around with the one on the new Mean Green machines, and It is excellent. Once we finish connecting it to the IoT connected mowers and Equipment Data Platform, it will be even better.
Kubota also had a very nice display. It wasn't a fancy touch screen, but it looked great and seemed to work well. This display is being used across many of its other vehicle platforms, including the ZT mowers and compact tractors.
Prediction: There will be a Hybrid Machine
I moved this one to last because I believe I missed the mark here. I thought we would see some type of hybrid ZT at the show, but I did not. I saw the Parker hybrid electric/hydro drive and a couple of electric/hydro driven remote control vehicles, but no true hybrid vehicles. I think everyone is embracing full electric, and the day of the hybrid ZT has already come and gone.
Well, you will have to wait for my tech walk-through of the show to be posted soon where I will discuss some more of the cool technology that was at the show, but I will say that I liked the new stand on sprayer/spreaders from Stinger and Briggs. I think there is a lot of potential for these new machines, and we are looking forward to adding our Equipment Data Platform to one so that the owners and users can get the most out of their new machines.
I was thrilled to see the Alamo Group breathe some life back into Dixie Chopper. I am looking forward to seeing what the new team can pull off with this Iconic ZT brand.
Overall, it was a great show. I think the conversation about "if" electric is coming is done, and the "when" discussion will be over by next year's show. Now, we have to collectively, as an industry, do a good job building what the customers, users and dealers want.
An electric machine that works well, is safer than anything before it, is easy to maintain and repair, and is justifiable in its price. Cool new features will be a bonus.