By Matt McFarland
NEW YORK (CNN) — For anyone who hates doing yard work, your new best friend may have arrived.
A New York startup unveiled Kobi on Thursday, a robot it says can autonomously shovel snow, collect leaves and cut grass.
“We’re on a mission to help people not spend time on yard work,” said Steven Waelbers, cofounder of The Kobi Company. “We want people to enjoy their free time with their family.”
Owners will need to reconfigure the robot’s attachment — similar to how many vacuums work — depending on the task it’s carrying out.
Before the robot operates independently, an owner must manually wheel it around the yard — taking it around any obstacles like trees, bushes or mailboxes. By doing this, the robot is taught the perimeter of the lawn, and won’t accidentally destroy someone’s prized rose bush or start roaming the neighborhood.
Once this setup is complete, and the $3,999 robot has been trained on where to cut grass, rake leaves and shovel snow, it operates without any supervision.
The electric robot navigates with the help of two beacons that must be placed in the yard. Kobi includes a camera and ultrasound sensor that Waelbers said would detect pets and people, and trigger the robot to stop before a collision occurred.
As the field of robotics blossoms, safety is a concern anytime a machine is going to be operating without human supervision. Robots are now fulfilling a range of roles, from working as security guards to delivering mail or room service and driving cars. But they aren’t perfect. Earlier this year a security robot ran over a 16-month-old’s foot at a California mall.
The robot — which tops out at 2 mph — cuts grass a fraction of an inch at a time. The clippings are left on the yard to serve as a natural fertilizer. Snow shoveling is done incrementally as well. When the robot collects leaves, it shepherds them into piles.
Kobi is designed to handle hills with up to a 40% incline. But it may get stuck in deep holes. The robot rests in a charging station in your yard or driveway and needs to have access to an electric outlet for power.
Waelbers sees potential health and environmental gains from people adopting the Kobi. Each year, 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled while refueling lawn equipment, according to the EPA. Shoveling snow increases the risk of heart attacks because the combination of an arduous task and cold weather is dangerous for those with heart problems or high blood pressure.
Waelbers has always loved to build robots and play with electronics. He started work on Kobi after his father asked him to make a robot that would shovel snow for him. Waelbers plans to start sales in early 2017.
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