Danish hackers meld lawn mower with Nintendo Wii

Sat Apr 11, 2009 8:55PM EDT

In the future, only suckers will mow their lawns by pushing equipment around by hand. Thanks to the tinkerers at the University of Southern Denmark and a group of other Scandinavian engineers, the future of lawn care and gardening — and the broader world of remote control and equipment on wheels — looks more like a video game than anything else, thanks to the clever combination of a Nintendo Wii control system with an industrial grass muncher.

The result of the clever experiment is Casmobot: The Computer Assisted Slope Mower Robot, which is part of something called the Plant Nursing Robotics program in Denmark. Plant Nursing Robotics was a short-term program (now ended) to transfer technology applications from Danish research labs to the industrial world, and Casmobot is the program’s most notable project.

Using the Nintendo Wiimote as a control device started out as a “funny idea,” according to the project FAQ, introduced as an alternative to complex and unintuitive industrial remote controllers. But the idea stuck. With the Wii-enabled Casmobot, instead of relying on dials and levers to tell a robotic mower to turn 90 degrees to the right, the controller can simply tilt the Wiimote in the appropriate direction and watch it respond in kind. A variety of safety protocols are built into the system, as well, to keep malicious hackers from hijacking industrial lawn mowers and running amok with them on the streets of Copenhagen.

While Casmobot isn’t coming to Home Depot any time soon — the mowers it’s attached to weigh over 660 pounds and the project is still classified as experimental and not ready for sale — the project is a tantalizing hint of the shape of things to come in the world of remote control. Anyone who’s used even a simple remote-controlled car knows how awkward the control system can be and how much training it can take to master. But the motion-sensing Wii is immediately graspable by even a novice user — that’s the primary reason why the console has become so unfathomably popular.

Remote-control lawn mowers may not be the most earth-shattering development in the world, but they could be the first step in a new era of how we interact with moving machines. Wii-controlled baby stroller, anyone?

Note: The Casmobot websites linked above may currently be down; try again in a few days after the traffic dies down.

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