IF the drudgery of mowing your lawn is getting to you, keep an eye on Newcastle-based start-up Elite Robotics.
The business was formed in late 2016 by University of Newcastle graduates Sahil Harriram, Nathan Bartlett and Luke De Bono (the first two men have mechatronics degrees, while Luke studied industrial design).
Their first venture is LUCi, an automated lawnmower that Mr Harriram says was inspired the fact his co-founders lived on acreages.
“Nathan has to push mow about two acres of property ... so we came up with the idea of removing that need,” he says.
Combining their design and mechantronics nous, the trio worked on a concept and won a pitch competition at the University of Newcastle, giving them seed funding and validating their idea. The team won another two pitch comps before successfully applying for the Minimum Viable Product grant with the Department of Industry, giving them $25,000 in matched funding.
The funding has allowed them to employ interns to assist their goal of getting a product to market by the end of next year, and in coming weeks they will test their prototype at a local golf course.
LUCi is powered by three systems: the first hinges on the robot’s spatial awareness and how it perceives the environment; the second is based on the actions or behaviour the user wants the robot to perform; and finally the third basically links these two system to prompt movement.
“We combine those three sets of algorithms to allow the robot to work towards a specific goal you want,” says Sahil.
He says LUCi is unique to the Australian market and superior to its rivals, largely made in Europe: “Most of them require a perimeter wire around the boundaries of the yard, and the mower moves randomly until it hits a corner or obstacle and then moves 90 degrees until it happens again, so there’s no specific path,” he says.
Instead, LUCI’s sensors isolate obstacles then the robot moves accordingly, making her more efficient in time and power usage.
Elite Robotics will work with organisations like golf clubs and councils before moving into the consumer market.
“The job of consumer models on the market is to replace a person but we want LUCi to work with the user, for example a greenkeeper, to improve the efficiency of their work so they can prioritise tasks.”
“The end goal is that it will be quicker than mowing it by hand and once you have set it up and have it running you won’t necessarily have to be there to supervise it, so if it does take a little longer it’s not a big deal,” says Sahil.