Campus News

Remote-control lawn mower eyed for improved worker safety

The Spider, a remote-controlled mowing unit, with all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering was demonstrated on the hillside of Walter Kunz Stadium.

University Facilities and Procurement Services staff watch a demonstration of the Spider, a remote-controlled mowing unit, on the hillside of Walter Kunz Stadium last week. Photos: Douglas Levere

By MICHAEL ANDREI

Published May 22, 2018

Early Wednesday afternoon, what looked like a compact version of NASA’s Mars Rover could be seen crawling up and down the hillside of Walter Kunz Stadium, along John James Audubon Parkway.

The bright yellow-and-black unit, with all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering, was, in fact, mowing the lawn. The Spider mower, developed by Company Dvorak in the Czech Republic, was controlled by a company representative using a joystick-like unit, performing a demonstration for UB Facilities Management and Procurement Services managers.

“We are looking for options to make mowing the campus’s steeper hillsides and hard-to-reach areas safer,” said Christopher Donacik, assistant director for building and grounds.

Staff watch a demonstration of the Spider remote-controlled lawn moving device

Brian Blake (left), owner of Temporary Heating Technologies, the Albany, New York, dealer for Spider Mowers, operates the Spider’s remote-controls for the UB demonstration. Photo: Douglas Levere

“A remote-controlled mower can allow our employees to guide the unit from a safe distance, eliminating the risk of rollovers of riding mowers when cutting the grass on these types of areas.”

The company’s website notes Spider remote-controlled mowers allow omnidirectional mowing and offer climbing ability on slopes of up to 55 degrees.

“We have had some incidents involving the current riding mowers on our steeper hills where the units struck holes in the ground and other obstacles, resulting in injuries to UB employees,” Donacik said.

“A remote-controlled mower can eliminate the danger of riding mowers flipping over on steep terrain.”

After the Spider mower demonstration, UB Facilities Management and Procurement Services managers planned to talk with other facilities and building and grounds professionals around the state whom, they said, already had Spider mowers in use.

“The state Office of General Services has one,” said Craig Hooftallen, senior buyer and contract specialist for UB Procurement Services. “Syracuse and Fordham have purchased these machines. Cornell also has one.

“We will want to talk with them to learn about their experiences with these mowers, and take that into account when we make a decision on whether to purchase one for UB,” he said.

“The safety factor is foremost,” said Ken Martyna, fleet maintenance manager for Facilities Campus Operations. “A remote-controlled mower can eliminate the danger of riding mowers flipping over on steep terrain.

“Also, when a standard mower has to do a turnaround, it has to do a 360. This one just stops, and changes directions,” Martyna said, as he watched the Spider take a diagonal track up and across the grassy stadium wall.

“The top three factors, for us, are safety, time and fuel,” said James Scripp, head grounds supervisor for Facilities Campus Operations, who was also present for the demonstration.

“There is a four-and-a-half gallon tank in this unit, so you can mow a half-day on one tank, break for lunch, fill up, and finish the day. Over the course of the mowing season, that can translate to significant savings on time and fuel.”

UB managers viewing the demonstration said a final decision has not been made on whether the Spider will be coming to UB.

Marketing materials distributed by Company Dvorak state Spider remote-controlled mowers are being used in countries around the world for a wide variety of functions, including along highways, natural dam wall maintenance, on golf courses and sports grounds, and in parks and vineyards.