South Pasadena Testing Fully Automated Turf Care Robot

Not only does it mow the grass but will pick up golf balls in the driving range at Arroyo Park Golf Course

FILE PHOTO: Bill Glazier | | FILE PHOTO: Bill Glazier | | Arroy Seco Golf Course driving range

Blazing the trail in South Pasadena’s effort to use battery-powered maintenance equipment for lawn and garden work in city parks back in 2015 wasn’t enough.

He then led the way to a citywide ban on gas-powered leaf-blowers enacted last year that goes into effect this fall.

Not stopping there, South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti, a preservationist and environmentalist as good as they come, looks to continue his green movement by unleashing an autonomous electric robotics mower to initially cut grass and – get this – pickup golf balls in the driving range at Arroyo Seco Golf Course in the city. If that works to his liking, Cacciotti hopes someday the eco-friendly mower will also maintain the fairways and greens of the adjacent 18-hole, 3-par course.

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Cacciotti saw the Echo Robotics commercial robot in action recently, doing its thing locally and came away impressed with its versatility.

“What I’ve seen so far is great,” said the mayor. “I like what it can do. We’re giving it a serious look.”

As a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Cacciotti is dead serious about improving the air he and others – especially those in South Pasadena – breathe. That’s why he was at the forefront seven years ago when South Pasadena became the first American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) certified city in the nation. AGZA green zones, according to its founder, Dan Mabe, are defined as “a collection of properties on which routine grounds maintenance is performed with low impact equipment and people powered tools.”

Spearheaded by Cacciotti, all city properties and parks in South Pasadena are now maintained by battery-powered and manual equipment.

“In keeping with our pledge to become a more sustainable city, we worked with AGZA to transition municipal grounds maintenance from fossil fuel based operations to advanced cordless battery equipment, manual tools, and ecologically friendly landscape practices,” he said. “As a result, South Pasadena has been able to eliminate all fossil fuel consumption and toxic emissions and has reduced noise by more than half.”

In an unanimous 5-0 vote last fall, the local City Council voted for the ban on gas-powered leaf-blowers, more than a year in advance of it going into effect. It will allow independent gardeners, and residents ample time, noted Cacciotti, to switch to battery-operated machinery without facing possible penalties.

The ordinance was created to protect individuals from excessive levels of noise, in an effort to promote health, safety, and welfare through the elimination of gas-powered devices used to blow leaves, dirt, and other debris off sidewalks, driveways, lawns, or other surfaces within the city.

As fossil fuel power continues to be swapped for emissions-free electrification worldwide, Cacciotti sees a better tomorrow not only for those making their home in South Pasadena but for cities from coast-to-coast.

ECHO, a worldwide manufacturer of commercial, handheld outdoor power equipment, purchased an Austrian company about 10 years ago that produces the robotics’ mower Cacciotti wants to bring to the city, and now they are introducing them to the United States.

PHOTO: Michael Cacciotti | South News | The City of South Pasadena is set to test a self-propelled, fully automated turf care robot at the Arroyo Seco Golf Course driving range.

“They’ve been common in Europe for the past couple of years, explained Cacciotti. “Our golf course here would probably be the first in the western United States to test it.”

Cacciotti and others from the city, including Community Services Director Sheila Pautsch, have met with B&M Landscaping, an Orange County dealer for the equipment, along with AGZA’s Mabe, and ECHO representatives in the United States. Efforts will soon look into coordinate the installation of computer electrical equipment that will operate the mower for use at the local driving range.

“Once you program it, you’ll be able to push a button and it will go out mow the grass and pick up balls in several hours,” Cacciotti said. “It can be programmed to do the golf course, but right now we’re looking at using it just for the driving range.”

Proudly, says the mayor, the City of South Pasadena “is on the map internationally” for its strong environmental efforts “and we’re a hotbed for experimentation for new technology. ECHO is anxious to demonstrate it in our city. If it’s successful they will take it all over the western United States.”

The ECHO Turf mower was briefly put into action at Arroyo Seco Golf Course, as Cacciotti and a small group on hand now looks for a second test at the driving range. That won’t take place, however, until both the driving range and golf course reopen, closed indefinitely until repairs are made at the facility following a recent windstorm.

“We lost a couple of poles in the driving range,” said Cacciotti. “It was pretty bad. Once the course reopens, we’re going to install the system for the robotic mower and start the demonstration pilot project. We’re excited about it.”

The ECHO Turf Mower, much like a Roomba Vacuum inside a home, falls in line with South Pasadena’s Climate Action Plan to reduce pollution, eliminate toxins in the air and other gases that come out of fossil fueled equipment. “Whether its trucks, cars, locomotives, trains down to gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers,” said Cacciotti, “it’s damaging to a person’s health. We’re concerned here in South Pasadena for the safety of our residents and this mower is just another step to protecting their quality of life.”