Sunday, March 5, 2000
A Love affair with
a robotic lawnmower
By ROY A. JONES II
Senior Staff Writer
If Cindi Herndon Love had stuck with her
first love she would probably be editor of the New York Times
Instead, the one-time editor of Abilene
High Schools newspaper, The Battery has an earned doctorate
in education and enough professional accomplishments in a variety
of educational and business endeavors to fill a book.
Fortunately, for Abilene, shes also
still involved in a Love affair with her hometown.
That explains why the 45-year-old educator-turned-businesswoman
picked Abilene to be the North American headquarters of the Israeli
company that she was personally recruited to lead.
I really was semi-retired to Abilene
when they came along and made me an offer that was too good to
turn down, she said. I finally accepted with the understanding
I could stay in Abilene.
Not that she doesnt spend a lot of
time traveling including four trips to the Tel Aviv headquarters
of Friendly Machines, Ltd. since late November.
Im putting all my computer training
to good use, she said with a laugh. I do a lot of
work on my laptop while Im flying somewhere.
Youve probably seen the ads for her
Robomow, a robotic lawnmower that allows its owner to play with
the kids or sit in the shade sipping a cold drink while the environment-friendly
machine takes care of the yard by itself.
Its mamma was a sheep. Its daddy was
a traveling alien, says one of the signs being readied for
Robomows Texas debut at the Big Country Home and Garden
Expo Saturday and today at the Abilene Civic Center.
Another says, Brains 1, Brawn 0.
Still another: Smart enough to mow your lawn. Dumb enough
to do it for free.
Cindi Love is not a hard-sell promoter.
Shes content to let Robomow sell itself, as it has been
doing quite successfully in Europe for several years.
If sales take off in the United States like
she believes they will, Love stands to become filthy rich. Wealth
isnt what motivates her, but she admits that it would help
her to attain a lifelong goal of helping her community through
Dont get me wrong. Theres
a tremendous sense of personal fulfillment that comes with helping
others through education and rehabilitation and community involvement
and the other things Ive been involved in, but most of the
time those endeavors just pay the bills, she said.
Ive seen a lot of people over
the years who were just $1,000 away from being destitute or turning
their life around and I always wished there was something more
I could do to help them, she said.
She listed the late A.B. Stormy
Shelton, most of whose charitable work was done behind the scenes,
as her role model for philanthropy.
He was so modest that most people
didnt realize what all he had done for Abilene until he
was gone, she said. But he left fingerprints all over
Abilene hospital, school, churches I admire that.
Love also had a built-in role model for
business and civic leadership in her mother. Alamae Herndon found
success in an industry dominated by men petroleum.
Before her death in 1988, at age 63, Herndon
had been secretary-treasurer of the Grisham-Hunter Corp., vice
president of Delaware Basin Properties and co-manager of Delaware
Basin Joint Venture, as well as a consultant to several large
independent Texas oil and gas corporations.
She was also a charter member of the Petroleum
Club of Abilene; president of the Altrusa Club and Women for ACU,
and a 10-year member of ACUs National Development Council.
I got my drive from her, Love
Her father, Leo, who still lives here, is
retired from a long career as credit manager for Lone Star Gas.
Love graduated from Abilene High School
in 1972 and became interested in speech pathology through a visit
to the West Texas Rehabilitation Center. She earned her bachelors
degree in that field in 1975, then worked as a school speech pathologist
in Shreveport while earning her masters degree at Louisiana
She returned home to work at the Rehab Center
and for the AISD, then taught at Hardin-Simmons University. In
1981, she founded C.H. Love & Co., Inc., and became the ComputerLand
franchise. Over the next few years she earned her doctoral degree
in education at Texas Tech University and restored three downtown
businesses on Cypress Street for her growing businesses.
In 1990, the firm was named one of the fastest
growing companies in the nation, based on a 3,201-percent increase
in gross sales from 1985-89. Sales went from $363,000 to almost
$12 million, she recalled.
The company was grossly undercapitalized
and she wound up selling the firm in 1991 and accepting an MIT
Looking back, she said, the business was
almost designed to fail because it sold computers too cheaply
in the competitive market and was unable to overcome the debt
it assumed when it purchased three ComputerLand franchises which
were in financial trouble.
ComputerLand went from 756 employees
to 178 in less than two years, and at the same time the effective
(profit) margin on PCs went from 42 percent to 14. What we faced
was no different than what small retailers face when Wal-Mart
comes in to an area, she said. Once the bigger stores
got into the mass marketing arena, and we had to stay competitive,
we simply could not sustain the losses.
She said directors decided to sell out to
save investors a worse fate if the company was forced into bankruptcy.
She later founded Integration Control Systems
and Services, which developed software to distribute irrigation
industry products. In 1996, she sold out to the Toro Company,
the largest turf care product manufacturer in the world.
As part of the buy-out she became a director
in Toros Minneapolis headquarters until late 1998. Then,
she returned to Abilene, intending to retire from everything but
a little consulting work.
But last November, Israeli leaders of Friendly
Machines, Ltd., sought her out and asked her to be chief operating
officer for North America. They wanted her to introduce Robomow
to the United States, she said.
She lined up more than 200 U.S. dealers
so quickly that the impressed corporation directors elected her
CEO of the whole company before a U.S. sale was made.
I didnt want to have to travel.
Now look at me, she said recently during an airport telephone
interview between flights in Detroit.
After a recent public demonstration, she
said she was moved by a 6-year-old boy who sent her a colorful
drawing of a man walking behind a robotic mower, guiding it with
a small device similar to a TV remote control.
This is a safer way to mow. You cant
cut off your fingers and toes, the child wrote. And
my Dad can mow again because he has a bad back.
Love laughed when she added that the child
also warned that the machines will become popular targets for
thieves and suggested, Make it say, help, help, someone
is stealing me.
Actually, Robomows makers have already
thought of that, Love said. The latest models include a hidden
honing device which could lead police to a stolen machine.
But drive-by thefts should not be a problem,
she said, because the mowers weigh 121 pounds.
How does it work?
The key component of Robomow is a small
electronic navigation device that acts as the brain
of the machine. Once a wire, connected to a small generator powered
by AA batteries, is placed around the perimeter of the lawn, Robomow
is set to work. The mower moves in straight lines, turning at
the end of each run with a natural overlap.
During cutting, the navigation module updates
a map of the lawn in its memory, including obstacles. It does
not require any knowledge of the area to be cut, or of any obstacle.
The company got its name, he said, from
the fact that the machine is friendly to the environment.
It uses no oil or gasoline and emits no exhaust. It runs on two
12-volt batteries that can be recharged overnight. It can mow
about 5,300 square feet on a single charge, he said.
Love said she believes that Robomow, despite
its $695 price tag, will make a significant dent in the 5.6 million
walk-behind and 1.5 million riding lawn mowers that are sold in
the U.S. each year.
Abilene salesmen of traditional mowers dont
see Robomow as a serious threat to their business the lack
of moisture is far worse a threat, they say.
Don Smith of Moores Bicycle Shop,
who sells Toro, Honda and Snapper mowers, said most mowers here
are sold to medium-size lawn owners who might find setting up
a perimeter wire and getting the robotic mower all ready to mow
more hassle than just getting a little exercise behind their old
faithful walk-behind mower.
But Fred Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Supply,
said he thinks robotic mowers are here to stay and will grow in
popularity as competition drives prices down. He said Husqvarna,
a 310-year-old company which began making muskets for the King
of Sweden, began marketing a robotic lawn mower in Europe three
Its supposed to be released
in the U.S. sometime in 2000, and well be the area dealer,
he said. One model, he said, recognizes when it is running low
on electricity, quits mowing and drives itself to its portal
and plugs itself in until it is recharged, he said. then
it goes back and finishes the job.
Another Husqvarna robot model runs off of
solar power, he added.
Well never replace walk-behind
mowers, but this developing computer technology is going to make
the future of lawn care even more exciting for us all, he
For more information about Robomow call
(888) 404-ROBO or visit the companys Web site at www.robomow.com.
Roy A. Jones II can be reached at 676-6737
or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps. Publications