Outdoor living: robot mowers, smart barbecues and rain-proof speakers
All your technology needs for a summer in the garden
Weber offers smart barbecues, with its Connect technology built into the grill.
We are in the grip of what could be our week or two of summer weather in Ireland. Things change quickly though. By the time this is published, it may be over, replaced by the odd rain shower and overcast skies that we’ve come to know and tolerate.
With that in mind, perhaps it is time to start investigating some technology to help your summer go with a bang, rather than a whimper – weather permitting, of course.
If you plan on spending lots of time in your garden this summer, you might need to up your garden game. Good luck getting anyone in at this stage to help out – garden design and maintenance services are in high demand, as you might imagine, and anecdotal evidence suggests it might be several months before you can call in the professionals. Soit’s probably best to make the most of what you’ve got.
Keeping the grass in check is easier than you’d think if you call the robots in. Husqvarna does a range of robot mowers, the Automower, that will traverse the lawn a couple of times a week, leaving the clippings in their wake to nourish your lawn.
Hemmed in by boundary markers, the mowers will stick to the area you designate, so if you are leaving a patch of your garden for pollinators, you can keep the mower away from that area. They are available in a range of sizes suitable for anything from smaller lawns up to 5,000 sq m, and start from €915.The more you pay, the more you get though; the more expensive models come with extras such as GPS assisted navigation, LED headlights and a connection to your smartphone.
You can also bring in some technology to look after the flowers. The Gardena Smart Water Control Set links to an app on your smartphone or tablet to give you full control over your plant watering system. The kit includes the smart Water Control and smart Gateway, so you’ll need to have a compatible sprinkler system or other irrigation set up to add it to. Once you have it connected, you can use the timer or the app to control and monitor your system.
It also has a frost monitor on it, giving you an alert when temperatures dip to freezing again.
Another way of keeping an eye on the weather is with a smart weather station. The Netatmo Smart Weather Station (€340) is designed to look after both indoor and outdoor climates, monitoring your air quality indoors but with the full weather station kit also measuring rainfall and windspeed. You can get a heads up on whether your plants need some extra help or if you’ll have to tie down some of your garden furniture.
It’s not just mowing and watering that you can outsource; one to keep an eye on is Tertill’s new weeding robot. Dreamed up by the inventor of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, the Tertill Weeding Robot ($349) is a smart robot that lives in your garden, runs on solar power and weeds every day so you don’t have to.
It has two ways of cutting back on weeds: by using its specially designed wheels to churn up the soil and kill weeds before they even take hold, or by using a mini whacker to take down the ones that have sprouted.
The obvious question is how the robot distinguishes between weeds and plants you want to keep. The sensors on the robot prevent it from cutting down plants over four inches tall, and for others, there are plant guards you can put in place to stop the robot from tearing them up.
The only drawback is that it is not yet available to ship outside North America – aside from the initial crowdfunding campaign – but it is one to keep an eye on.
If you are going to be entertaining outdoors, the barbecue will play a starring role. But if you aren’t an experienced outdoor cook, it can be stressful. Help is at hand though. Barbecue expert Weber offers smart barbecues, with its Connect technology built into the grill. With the aid of a smartphone, you can produce the perfect steak, burgers, chicken and other meats, with the smart grill talking you through the process. All you need is a compatible smartphone – one with bluetooth – and 10 minutes or so to set up, and you are good to go.
The app is so detailed that it will give you to-the-second prompts to flip your steak to get it cooked just the way you like it. And when it comes to trickier items like chicken, you don’t have to guess if it’s cooked or hope for the best. You can also set a temperature and the probe will alert you when you reach it. That is handy, because if it’s not one of the meats listed, there are no on-screen steps to follow.
One drawback: it’s not so good on the non-meat options, so you will have to barbecue the veggies the old-fashioned way.
The Weber Spirit EPX-325S is the gas-fired version, starting at €1,153, but you can also get a wood-pellet barbecue with the technology built in.
If a new barbecue is out of your price range – we cleared the shelves last year of reasonably priced barbecues – you can buy the Connect technology in a more compact, and affordable, form. The Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub (€158) is a standalone device that has all the technology of the barbecue, but in a handheld device. It comes with two probes – one for the meat and one for the ambient temperature in the grill, and a display that shows the temperature being read by the probes. Like the smart barbecue, it connects to your smartphone and works the same way, directing you when to turn meat or take it off the heat.
The Qelviq is a personal wine sommelier that claims to serve your wine at the correct temperature every time. The device will chill your wine to the perfect temperature, while the accompanying app will identify what that temperature is from its vast library of wines. You can preorder the Qelviq (€649), which is available from October – so one for next summer.
If the food is sorted, you’ll need to consider entertainment. The growth in popularity of bluetooth speakers means you can now pick up a wireless speaker for a reasonable price. The past few years have seen some improvements in the quality of bluetooth audio.
For the budget shopper, the JBL Flip (€99) will give you a portable speaker with a decent battery life and the ability to resist a rain shower. You can link two or more together in PartyBoost mode to get more powerful sound, and dial up the party (neighbours permitting). The specs say 12 hours of playing on a full charge, but that will be affected by the volume.
Deeper pockets mean you can look at Sonos. The Sonos Move (€399) is designed for both indoor and outdoor use, with a weatherproof shell and a decent battery life. The company has developed its own technology, called TruPlay, that helps the speaker adapt the sound for where you are and what you are listening to, ensuring that you get the best audio no matter what your location.
It also has voice control, through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so you don’t even need to touch the speaker or your phone, but can bark commands at it from a distance and change the track or volume while you are wielding a barbecue tongs.
But there are times when you won’t share the same taste in music. Or perhaps you want to listen to something completely different – a documentary while you cook, or keep up with the football coverage of the Euros. You could opt for headphones, though there are other ways. The Huawei X Gentle Monster II Eyewear (€300) look practically the same as a pair of oversized sunglasses, but they have one important difference: two speakers built into the arms of the glasses. They are semi-open speakers, so you can hear them but there is less sound leak than some headphones, and you don’t lose the detail in the same way that you would with bone conductions speakers.
You can still hear what’s going on around you too, which also makes them a good option for cycling or other exercise where you need to be aware of traffic or pedestrians.