Robert Smith really hates to mow the lawn. I mean, really hates it. So instead of suffering in the heat and getting covered in grass clippings, the 23-year-old engineering graduate from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) built a solar-powered lawn mower that does all the work for him. “I thought, ‘how can I make this more enjoyable?’ I needed to complete a senior project, and this was a really good challenge for myself, to incorporate different technologies and make mowing the lawn easier,” he said.
Smith’s Solar Charged Remote Controlled Electric Lawn Mower (SCRCELM–pronounced “screlm”) is a Black & Decker electric mower fitted with components from an electric wheelchair and powered by two 20-watt solar panels wired to pair of 12V batteries. It can be constructed from materials sourced almost entirely from Lowe’s, RadioShack, eBay and Amazon. Perhaps most importantly, it can be controlled with a remote, while you sit in a lawn chair:
The project is slightly reminiscent of something Rick Moranis would have built in Honey I Shrunk the Kids. But, Smith isn’t just your everyday tinkerer with a degree in computer engineering; he is also something of a video and social media whiz. How many college students do you know that spent their summer break creating an online tutorial showing how to build a solar panel from scratch?
Smith’s website is a wealth of do-it-yourself knowledge, with detailed videos, schematics and parts and tools lists. The SCRCELM project is quite involved; but if you were so inclined, you could build it yourself from the information he provides. There, he tells you everything you need to know–from the size of drill bits to the number of washers you will need.
His instruction videos may not be quite as popular as videos of that Robert Smith, but Smith’s YouTube channel has over 4,000 subscribers, and the introductory video for the SCRCELM project has received over 7,500 views on YouTube since it launched in November.
At the risk of dropping the most 1980’s cultural references ever in an EarthTechling article; he’s like the Bob Vila of do-it-yourself solar power. Smith also hosts monthly contests in which he gives away a 5-watt solar panel to one of the lucky technology buffs, fellow engineering students and solar enthusiasts who make up his audience.
For him, Smith says it’s all about raising awareness about solar energy and its many varied applications. “Mostly, I just want to get people involved in solar energy as much as possible,” he said. “I definitely see solar energy as where we’re headed. The more people are interested, the quicker we’ll get there.”
So far, Smith does not have any plans to commercialize the SCRCELM. But, he has also thought about engineering a solar-powered weedeater or snow plow, and he said he would certainly be open to opportunities to further develop the design.
For now, he is an enterprising young college graduate trying to do something productive while he looks for a job. “I enjoy [making the videos] because I’m a very creative person,” he said. “I like watching the footage from the tutorials and thinking about what the finished product might be. YouTube and Google and video networks are a new way of learning about technology, and another avenue that people can use to build something. I feel like I’ve been able to come up with a way of making a video that people want to watch and that they can learn from.”
Having just finished the project in November; Smith said he hasn’t had a chance to test the mower in the heat of Nashville, Tennessee’s summer. But, he looks forward to putting it to good use, and sitting on the porch while his neighbors mow their lawns the old-fashioned way.