Grass cutting is getting an IoT makeover like never before

Singapore Botanic Gardens grass cutting robot
(Image credit: Govtech)

There's no doubt that technology has made much of our everyday lives easier, whether that's typing out documents that used to be hand-written, mapping a route that used to involve a physical map, or just setting the thermostat to the right level using a phone app rather than actually getting up and doing it by hand.

Now, the future of one of the most-hated garden chores could be coming to an end, as grass-cutting gets a "smart" makeover courtesy of the Govtech, the technological development arm of the Singaporean government, alongside the nation's National Parks Board.

And the breakthrough could form part of a smart connected future, not just for the lush lawns of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, but for lawns (and the homes and other buildings attached to them) everywhere.

Staying trim

Nestled only a few minutes metro ride from the city state's bustling central business district, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are an oasis of greenery and calm for the city state's citizens.

A UNESCO world heritage site, the gardens are a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike, and boasts a huge collection of plant life from around the globe.

But in a tropical location such as Singapore, where a combination of high humidity, heavy rain and bountiful sunshine are an almost daily presence, keeping track of some of the growth can be tricky.

The Singaporean government's National Parks Board is on a mission to transform the nation into "a City in Nature", with a master plan underpinned by digitalization.

Alongside grand projects such as mapping millions of trees across the country, and tracking potential flash flood risk in its drainage systems, the state of the botanical garden lawns was also cited to TechRadar Pro as a major project on our recent visit.

grass cutting robot Singapore botanical gardens

(Image credit: Govtech)

In the words of Tan Chong Lee, Assistant Chief Executive Officer at the National Parks Board, it all starts by putting everything on a map. 

The lawns at the gardens have all been mapped using GPS and a digital twin uploaded onto the Board's systems - these maps are then divided up into further "polygons" covering the entire area, sometimes at just a few centimeters each.

When the lawns are attended either by the gardens' robot mowers, or contractors equipped with wearable scanners, a specially-designed Grass Height Sensor uses ultrasonic waves to beam back information in real time to update this map on the current state (and length) of the grass. 

The different lengths are color-coded depending on their length status - meaning that if anyone ever misses a spot, this can be quickly spotted and inspected.

Singapore Botanic Gardens grass sensor

(Image credit: Govtech)

Although robot lawn mowers have been publicly available for years, the Grass Height Sensor technology could be a useful addition to a wide range of use cases outside of the garden, tracking works around the city. 

On our visit, we were also shown demos of sensors monitoring how much a tree is tilting, to spot potential safety issues before they arise, and a further ultrasonic scan attached to a boring drill that can spot if a tree has cavities (and is therefore at risk of collapse).

So although it may be niche, the work being done by the proud lawn mowers at the Singapore Botanic Gardens could soon be coming to a park or lawn near you, letting us all enjoy (well-trimmed) nature at its finest.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.