September 29, 2016      

The average American spends nearly 70 hours a year on lawn and garden care. The Kobi Company wants to give you all that time back.

The New York-based startup unanimously won Pitchfire at RoboBusiness 2016 with its Kobi 3-in-1, autonomous robot landscaper that mows your lawn, removes your leaves, and snow blows your driveway. Co-founder Steve Waelbers says Kobi has been tested in the company’s lab, and that 10 beta versions of Kobi will be working hard in yards by the end of 2016. They’ll then use that feedback to get Kobi into full production.

Here’s how Kobi works. The base unit stays the same and you swap out attachments based on whether you need Kobi to mow the lawn, mulch leaves, or snow blow your driveway. Waelbers says you teach Kobi where to blow the snow and dump the leaves using the app. Kobi can throw the snow up to 40 feet, depending on the condition of the snow.

Meet the 15 Pitchfire Finalists

Waelbers says no tedious boundary wires are needed to keep Kobi from veering out of your yard or driveway. All you need to do is use the companion app to drive Kobi around the yard or driveway so it can learn the perimeter of those spaces and where any fixed obstacles are located. Kobi uses GPS and a suite of sensors to achieve inch-level positioning accuracy. Kobi also features WiFi, Bluetooth and mobile data connectivity.

So how much snow can Kobi handle? Kobi says its can cover up to 0.37 acre of snow removal, but that it takes a “proactive approach” by starting the snow removal process as the snow is falling. Kobi can mow up to 7 acres, and the leaf module can cover up to 3 acres.

There are several built-in safety features for the snow blowing application. For example, Waelbers says the robot’s camera and ultrasonic sensors help it detect objects in the snow and immediately shut down the augers. There’s also a dog whistle that will keep man’s best friend out of harm’s way, according to Waelbers.

Pitchfire judge Jason Sydow, a partner at next47, a Siemens company, says all the judges were impressed with Kobi’s business model. It found a good problem (yard work) and is offering a good solution. Sydow also says there’s an expansive market opportunity for Kobi as it could be sold to both consumers and businesses. Waelbers says Kobi will be sold through independent hardware stores and its own website. Those hardware stores will be able to charge an extra small fee to handle the set up process of teaching Kobi the layout of your yard and driveway.

Kobi Robot Specs

According to Sydow, Franklin Robots was the second-place finisher. Led by Rory MacKean and Roomba inventor Joe Jones, Franklin Robotics has designed a solar-powered, autonomous weeding robot named Tertill. It lives in the garden and charges itself in the sunlight, patrols the garden, avoids plants and obstacles, and chops down emerging weeds. Setup requires only a fence around the garden and small plastic collars around seedlings; no wires or beacons are necessary.

And there’s no programming of any kind, and chemicals are no longer needed for weed control. The robot also provides a mobile platform for collecting a rich data set about the garden, including: soil moisture, temperature, plant nutrition and local weather conditions.