University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students returning to campus for fall classes may have noticed a surprising addition to the east side of campus.


This fall, UAFS is piloting the use of a Husqvarna automatic lawnmower, also known as an automower, on a strip of grass between the Boreham Library and the Pendergraft Health Sciences Center, approximately 7,000 square feet of grass. Each weekday at 6 a.m., the lawnmower automatically turns on, cuts the stretch of grass hemmed in by boundary wire, and re-docks itself at the end of its run at around noon.


In addition to convenience for both employees and students, the new technology also allows for educational opportunities for students, according to Matt Rich, grounds manager for UAFS and its contracted lawn service company Southeast Service Corp. This fall, Rich will teach lessons in Dr. Kiyun Han’s wireless systems course about the GPS technology employed by the machine.


“In the class I hope to take apart the automower to show students the components and talk about how Bluetooth and GPS systems work on this machine and coordinate with the app,” Rich said.


While automatic lawnmowers are still relatively new technology, Rich said the mower is safe and has built-in mechanisms to prevent theft. Instead of the traditional blades like on push or riding lawnmowers, the automatic lawnmower uses three-inch box cutting blades that shave off around an eighth of an inch of grass.


“It’s almost like a running weed eater,” he said.


The electric motor also contributes to less sound, which is more convenient for campus.


“One of the benefits we don’t think about is how quiet it is,” Rich said. “In the past, we’ve tried not to mow in the morning because it can be a distraction to students on campus. Using technology like this and electric mowers that don’t make much noise allow us to use them at any time.”


Additionally, Rich can track the mower’s location via GPS on his smartphone and will get an alert if the machine is taken outside of its boundary.


If the trial lawnmower demonstrates proof of concept, Rich said they will look into purchasing two automowers in the spring for use on the intramural fields across Waldron Road, which is estimated to save the department more than 100 man hours of work each year.