Time to put the gardener out to grass

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The ultimate domestic appliance is about to come rolling across the manicured lawns of the idle rich: a lawnmower that cuts the grass by itself.

The solar-powered robot mower, which costs pounds 2,000, needs only daylight to get it moving and to keep the lawn trimmed to a pre-set length.

Prototypes of the mower aroused interest when they were exhibited at leading gardening shows and now its maker, a company called Husqvarna Forest and Garden, has put it on the market.

The manufacturer said the mower is so expensive because it contains a computer which will allow it to decide how to cut the grass without help or interference from its owner. It will even consider, without looking for excuses, whether the grass is too wet.

Husqvarna, based in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, said the mower was inspired by herds of grazing sheep, and operates on the same principle: "They kept the grass short, green and healthy - just the way homeowners want their lawns."

In the same way that sheep are fenced in, a low-voltage electric cable is laid around the boundary of the area being cut to stop the mower running amok and chewing up the herbaceous borders. In prototypes the cable was buried around the edge of the lawn so the mower appears to stop and change direction of its own volition.

In addition to its obvious attractions for reluctant gardeners, the mower's manufacturer claimed it was environmentally friendly. "The solar mower uses no fossil fuels and no mains power supply. So it does not produce exhaust fumes or other pollutants either in your garden or at the power plant. It is virtually silent and will not disturb anyone," Husqvarna said.

Lord Deedes, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph who has studied and written extensively on mechanical garden appliances, said he could not imagine why anyone would want such a machine: "Part of the fun is thinking while you push the mower. It is good exercise and modern mowers are light enough for women to use. It would be all right for square lawns but most people don't have square lawns. By the time you've programmed the thing you could have mowed the lawn three times over."

Husqvarna is undaunted and claims its machine will even improve lawns: short, fine lawn cuttings will disappear into the grass to decompose into natural compost, reducing the need for artificial fertilisers.