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Betsie the Lawnbott

April 9th, 2009

I’ve enjoyed using Betsie’s Twitter account to notify her fans when they can see her out mowing on webcam…. but this plant that uses twitter automatically is really cool.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

February 12th, 2009

A Clover Lawn?


The house we bought 2 years ago had a nice lawn. Good sized with green, thick lush grass. The previous owner had a contract with ChemGreen or whoever… There’s still chemicals and stuff in the shed. But that’s not my thing. So I haven’t done anything except let Betsie chomp at it for the past two summers. And it’s not as green or lush as it used to be.

I think the biggest reason is that Betsie mows the grass so darn short! The max setting is just above 2″.

These days it seems like people are finally ready to think about moving to no-cut grasses or lawn replacement ground covers. I know I’m thinking about it for the back yard (maybe mint). For the front yard my only big plans are some type of vegetable/fruit garden… and they’re just plans. I want to have something for Bets to mow. Right now I’m leaning towards picking up some clover seed. Clover? Yep. Here’s some reasoning:

Ideal Qualities of a “Carpet” for Outdoor Living:

1. It stays a luscious green all summer, without being irrigated profusely (i.e., it’s drought-tolerant).
2. It is free of weeds, obviating the need to apply herbicides. Your carpet competes so well for growing space that the competition is choked out.
3. It doesn’t need to be fertilized.
4. It is also relatively pest-free, so that you don’t have to bother spraying pesticides on it.
5. It aerates the soil on its own, so that you don’t have to worry about counteracting soil compaction.
6. It is soft to walk on.
7. It attracts beneficial insects, including honeybees.
8. It rarely has to be mowed.
9. It doesn’t suffer the discoloration from dog urine known as “dog spots.”
10. And if, despite all these benefits, you should ever want to replace it with a different kind of green carpet, it helps you to do so by improving the soil on its watch. Its ability to aerate the soil and pump nitrogen into it means that succeeding generations of plants using that soil will be better off.
From here: http://landscaping.about.com/cs/lawns/a/clover_lawns_3.htm

The biggest disadvantage to clover lawns seems to be that people don’t want lots of bees for their kids to step on. That’s where Betsie comes in. She’ll cut those pesky bee-attracting flowers off before the bees even know they’re there. This isn’t really a plus for me personally, but I can live with it.

Honestly, I’m not sure how the clover will do - but it should be better than the weeds that I have creeping into the yard from all sides now. The grass that’s there doesn’t grow at all in the shade under the trees, and the grass that’s there doesn’t seem to do well at keeping weeds out when it’s cut really short. Hopefully the clover will do better.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

October 1st, 2008

The type of voltage regulator that I used for the first Lawnbott Live camera was only rated for 8V, so I needed to get a 12V one. I bought the only one I found at Radio Shack. However, it didn’t seem to work for the new camera setup (I’ll write about what the setup is once it is working). I suspected the 1 amp limit on the regulator might be the problem. I only paid for one AC adapter with the new camera so I had to scrounge around the house looking for two more in order to test things out without Betsie’s battery. Luckily 12V adapters are very common (got one from the old Linksys router and another from … something…). I plugged everything into the wall and lo-and-behold it worked perfectly. Nice picture! I went back to using battery power and the transmitter barely made it to the receiver over a 3 foot distance. Hmmm…. The transmitter needs more power.

I realized that my scrounged adapters came in different two different amperage values, one 500mA and one 1A. I knew my voltage regulator was rated for 1A, and had thought that might be the problem (if you can’t get enough current then you can’t get enough power as Power = Voltage * Current). I switched the transmitter to the 1A AC adapter and powered the camera from Betsie and everything worked great again.

This is when I started researching voltage regulators and came across switching regulators. Similar concept, looks about the same from outside the IC, but inside it’s all different. How it’s different goes beyond this Mech. E’s interest/experience level, but the end result is that it’s a lot more efficient. In a linear voltage regulator the voltage dropped is lost as heat. This really only works when you’re at low powers or small voltage drops. No, I didn’t do the calculation to figure out how much I’m wasting, but I did burn my fingers last time so I know there’s a lot of heat being wasted. The switching regulator is rated for 80% efficiency. Since I know I need more power, it seemed like a good way to go.

Here’s the part I ordered: http://octopart.com/info/Diodes+Inc./AP1512A-12K5L-13

It arrived today, so I might get a chance to put things together.

I’m still operating without a soldering iron and without my own voltmeter so I probably won’t get anything finished tonight. I need to fix this!

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

September 26th, 2008

I started having trouble with Betsie’s on-bot camera after updating the software a while ago. It turned out to be unrelated to that and more due to the lack of robustness of the camera I’d been using. It had been cheap, not waterproof, not shockproof camera of the type you can get on eBay for about $25. I took it apart, wiggled the antenna wire around, got it working again for a few days and then it stopped working again so I kind of gave up.

Of course it hadn’t rained for over 6 weeks and there wasn’t really much need to mow the lawn either.

Since then we have gotten a bit of rain (hurricane season), and the leaves will start falling soon.

I still love the idea of keeping Lawnbott Live as a permanent fixture. Twittering Betsie’s schedule so her fans can come and watch her mow the lawn. And so I have acquired a new camera. I will write more about it soon and I expect you to be able to See how well it is working out in the near future. Just as soon as it stops raining.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

June 29th, 2008

No more mowing the sidewalk


After watching Betsie on the live cam from work I decided that mowing the sidewalk might not be the best thing to do. We live at the end of a cul-de-sac, but there are still a lot of people who walk by every day, including the neighbor’s grand kids who love to hope on their cars and roll down the little hill and zoom past my yard.

It wasn’t a hard project, I just added a new piece of wire along the house side of the sidewalk, across at a crack, and back up the street side of the sidewalk to connect to the old wire. This gave me some slack to fix the area around that troublesome bush too.

So now the area between the sidewalk and the street is a new zone.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

June 25th, 2008

Lawnbott Live got linked to at Makezine last Friday night. Almost 500 visitors came to watch Betsie mow on Saturday. Now we are up to 1270 visitors for the past 30 days. Pretty cool. The biggest problem? The lawn is so short Betsie doesn’t want to go out to mow.

I’ve let her return to her automatic schedule. At 95% mowed Betsie will go home and schedule herself to return to mowing the next day (24 hours + waiting until the next scheduled window). I’m curious if it ever waits more than 24 hours to go back out? Some features of the lawnbott software are never noticed because us users aren’t patient enough to just let it do it’s thing (or it gets stuck and resets the automation). The rain sensor is an example. Apparently the lawnbott will unpause itself a certain time after quitting for Rain, but I’ve never seen that happen either, I always go out and unpause it.

I’ve been out of town, so presently we are at almost 48 hours of unassisted mowing. It’s fun to watch the cam from Denver! If you like it, submit it to Digg.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

June 19th, 2008

Betsie now has an eye and you can see what she sees. You also get a birds-eye view of part of the yard that she cares for.
Check out the live webcam page tomorrow around 10am Eastern.

The UStream.TV setup should work better than trying to get my own streaming server working. Still, I’d say this setup is currently in ‘beta testing’ mode, so leave a note if you see anything odd…

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

June 17th, 2008

My Yard Yesterday


One of the features of the webcam software I am (was) using is to save each image into a Quicktime movie and make a time lapse video for the day. This turned out better than I expected.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

June 15th, 2008

Almost Live


I’ve got the yard cam live all the time now, but still working on the first person lawnbott cam (it will be up and down). Both are linked from here: http://live.betsielawnbott.com

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

May 19th, 2008

Way to go (mow)!


From: Don
To: Sara
Date: Mon, 19 May 2008 07:31:46 -0400

Betsie finished by the way! The lawn looks great!


Yeah! The weeds were knee high on Friday night when I got home and found the package from KA.

I set Betsie to charging. When she was ready (or maybe before since I am impatient) she came out, did a spiral, crossed the yard, and went home. Total time, less than 10 minutes!

I began to fear for the battery. However, she was cutting better than ever and not getting stuck in the tall weeds. So I decided not to worry yet.

I’m not sure if it was the new blade, the new software, or maybe the fact that my grass isn’t too thick… but I have never seen a lawnbott do so well in such overgrown grass. I’m pretty the fact that the grass wasn’t too thick helped a lot.

I’m going to try over-seeding when I get home next week (I have a bag of seed that the previous owners of our house left, so might as well use it). Betsie keeps things a bit shorter than I’d like, and that lets the weeds come in more. Anyone have advice about dealing with that?

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

May 16th, 2008

Check the stickam.com box on the right side… if it’s black then Betsie is in her house charging. If it’s a photo then we’re offline. But maybe, if you time it right, you’ll see her out mowing!

If you are seeing this in your feed, come visit the site to see the cam. :)

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. Please leave any comments there.

Check the stickam.com box on the right side… if it’s black then Betsie is in her house charging. If it’s a photo then we’re offline. But maybe, if you time it right, you’ll see her out mowing!

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

Betsie, Back in Action!


Betsie, Back in Action!

Originally uploaded by sajego.

I let her charge for about 20 minutes and then got impatient. That was when I realized the charger was on the wrong voltage setting. I switched it, waited 5 more minutes and then sent her out. She made this lovely spiral, crossed the yard to the driveway and must have been cruising because she slipped out of bounds and stopped. I turned her around but she said Low Battery so I sent her home.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

Betsie, Back in Action!

Originally uploaded by sajego.

Guess what FedEx finally left me! I was all ready to break down and ask the neighbor’s teenager to mow my lawn (he does my neighbors) since I’m out of town next week. But the charger is here and Betsie is working again!

In other news, the rose bush (they are Bright Pink) has a couple dozen blooms on it!

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

May 10th, 2008

A Rough Spring


As I wrote previously, I was planning to redo Betsie’s front yard wire. Strangely enough though, when I started her up for the first mow of the spring, the wire was connecting perfectly and I didn’t have to fiddle with anything at all. I was quite surprised.

After getting the grass short I planted some grass seed that the previous owners of the house had left in the shed. I just tossed it around by hand on the bare spots under the trees (it was a shade grass mix). It had been dated spring 07, but I figured I might as well try it since it was left behind. It has been growing well since then.

Of course the wire around the side yard was broken, and then something disconnected on the main loop too. I placed an order for wire. It hadn’t come by the next weekend so I looked up the tracking number.



“Pasadena, Maryland”

Oh no. That was Betsie’s first home. 3 hours away and who knows who lives there now! I had changed all the addresses when I checked out, and my email confirmation from the company had only the right address on it. I contacted them and complained. I told them they could just refund my money. I ordered from McMaster Carr and had the wire the next day.

My next free evening I installed it. Wow, no wonder I had had so many problems with the wire. In less than 500 feet I had at least 8 different pieces. Now it was all one piece all the way around. I got to visit with my neighbors who came out of hibernation to chat for the first time since fall.

I connected the new wire to the stranded pig tails and went to check the connection. The light on the transmitter that is either solid green or blinking green wasn’t either. It wasn’t even lit.

Betsie wasn’t charged.

Something had gone wrong in the week and a half of waiting for the misdirected wire.

At first I suspected the transmitter, but after measuring the voltage across charger I realized that was the likely culprit, only 5 volts instead of 25.

I checked all the fuses, cleaned off some dirt, and it worked again!

For about 5 minutes.

Now the lights on the charger were out too.

This is why Bamabots was having new parts sent to me. What’s happen since then? Well, I got a new transmitter, but they didn’t send a new charger. I’m still waiting.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

It is strange having a blog that you know people read. My livejournal, which I’ve had since 1999, has never had many followers, so I just talk to myself and feel free to complain about things. It’s actually been “friends only” since I discovered a co-worker reading it a few years ago, I didn’t want to have to worry about what I might have said about my job being too public.

Betsie’s blog, this blog, started because I wanted to tell people about my cool new creature. I talked about her in so many emails and IMs that my friends got tired of hearing about “Betsie this, Betsie that” all the time. So I set up a livejournal account for Betsie and sent emails to that instead.

It was a surprise when people started commenting, and a huge surprise to be contacted by the lanwbott company (KA) because of this blog. Subject matter blogging was just starting to really catch fire at the time, so I guess we fit right in.

Now days I don’t write quite so much. CBS Sunday Morning never did do their story with my interview and Betsie. I know that that happens with TV, but they did act like it would definitely air last summer. My neighbors are still asking me about it.

They are also asking me why Betsie hasn’t been out much this spring. Is that the new polite way of point out how tall the grass is in your lawn? That’s another entry though.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

May 6th, 2008

Still no package with new power adapter. I guess my last post jinxed it… or maybe it went the way of my original wire shipment… to the last place I lived in Maryland. Hope not.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

April 29th, 2008

Last week, Thursday I think, I put down brand new wire in the front yard. After taking out the old wire my reason for doing this became even more clear. The old wire was made up of various lengths twisted together. I used about 400 feet for the new wire, yet the old wire was at least 8 different pieces! This is what happens when you move an installation from one house to another (or if you have a landlord who likes to break your wire).

As I finished I went to check on the signal and connection with the terminals. That’s funny, no light on the transmitter (little box) at all? Weird. So much for testing the new wire. Betsie’s battery was also drained all the way.

I emailed the folks at Bamabots. I measured a voltage of only about 6 V coming through the charging station. That would be a problem, it should be 27 or so volts. After checking that all the fuses were okay, cleaning some dirt away from one fuse inside the transformer (big box) I tried it again and it worked fine! Wow. I guess it was just dirt.

I left Betsie to charge and I emailed Bamabots to tell them of my success. I came back and it wasn’t working again. This time none of the lights were on on either the transmitter or the transformer. Spoke too soon. I emailed them again.

Well that was Friday, I emailed today to ask if they could just send a new transformer out to me because the rain has stopped and the grass is about to grow a foot!

I got a reply back really quick…

Hi Sara!

A new transmitter and charger are already on their way. They should have went out yesterday from Atlanta.


Now that’s service, yes? I had to respond ‘Thanks for letting me know! ;)’ Maybe it’ll come today!

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

April 5th, 2008

Redoing the wire


I am thinking about re-wiring the yard with new wire for this season. The wire I have always seems to have breaks in it that I can’t find easily. This is mostly because I used it at another house before moving here. Now that I’m not planning on moving again ANY time soon, it would be nice to have a more reliable perimeter. I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to get Betsie out there mowing immediately so she wouldn’t chop the wire up, plus I think I would just bury it from the start.

Last time I bought wire from Del City and I think I opted for THHN 14 gauge solid/single strand. It has worked pretty well except for connecting to the charging house terminals, I had to do that with the Lawnbott supplied stranded wire to get it to keep a signal loop. The little springs that held the terminal clips in are long gone too. I usually have it covered with tape.

Anyone have advice for where to get more wire from or what to do about the terminals?

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

January 25th, 2008

It’s Winter


I need to take a picture of the circle of yellow grass in the front yard. I didn’t notice it until a few weeks ago. It looks like a lawnbott pattern, and very well could be.

I sent Betsie out to mulch leaves and after a short time realized her blade was set very low. This resulted in her cutting up the already dying grass (we had a drought this summer) lower than the other grass had been.

I can’t wait for spring and things to turn green again! Winter without snow is just not very pretty.

Originally published at Betsie Lawnbott. You can comment here or there.

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