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El Reg's GAGA robot lawn-slasher loses its mind. For now

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The weather has been working against us in the Hibernian branch of Special Projects: not only did it rain interminably for months but it then broke into blazing sunshine prompting an explosion of growth for which we were entirely unprepared. Location sensing is still under development, more on that later, but now we're racing to produce some kind of growth retardant while the grass is, quite literally, growing under our feet.

The Genuinely Autonomous Garden Assistant (GAGA) will be autonomous, eventually, and thus will need a decent brain, but right now we need something which can cut the grass even if it has to rely on something a little more fleshy. Fortunately we've already decided that remote operation is the way to go, so GAGA will be fitted with human-operable radio controls and switch to a higher, silicon-based, intelligence down the line.

Not that we're planning on pacing up and down like some kind of primitive suburban tribesman. If we have to be involved with the mowing of the lawn then we will do so from the comfort of some nearby hostelry, or from the sofa at least. Our immediate need is, therefore, for a machine capable of making its way around the lawn while streaming video to the operator, and keeping the grass neat.

Sadly our extensive blade testing has demonstrated there's nothing quite like a whirling chunk of metal to keep the grass shorn. A machine equipped with scything teeth would be visually stunning, and has that Mad Max appeal not to mention being the way in which the very first grass cutters operated (as we're given to understand) but sadly the technique doesn't produce the kind of finish one expects of a 21st Century lawn:

The blades do cut grass, but they also push it out of the way, sadly doing more of the latter than the former and leaving the grass bruised but unrepentant. So we're back to the self-mulching blade we tested earlier, which at least has the advantage of double-cutting the grass once equipped with a suitable cowl - slicing cut grass into small enough parts to mulch down into the lawn, removing the need for collection, which simplifies things considerably.

To get GAGA onto the local area network we've opted for a Buffalo AirStation gateway, connecting four CAT5 sockets to the wi-fi network which reliably covers the garden. That means we can plug in a cheapo (£30) IP camera, and Robot Electronics make a nice relay board with its own IP address and web server (£52), so we got one of those and started plotting out a rig to ensure all this hardware will work nicely together, on which note we present our non-autonomous, non-grass-cutting test rig:

Layout of the GAGA test rig

Sadly the Reg Special Projects Playmonaut is busy in rocket training, so couldn't attend the first tests

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