Dick_Roels

New Smartphone App Simplifies Mowing Decisions

Deere & Company grounds crew helps test new app during its development.

Set on 1,100 acres of land, the Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline, Ill., offers employees and visitors beautiful vistas of immaculate turf surrounded by a wooded landscape. The grass requires constant maintenance by a small group of turf-care professionals. So when developers at the adjacent Moline Technology Innovation Center (MTIC) needed help testing the new MowerPlus App, all they had to do was look to their colleagues outside.

“We see the grounds crew mowing every day, so we knew they could log some serious hours on the app for us,” said Mario Donini, a user-experience engineer at MTIC. “It made for a great partnership.”

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Real-Life Testing

The MowerPlus App was tested by the grounds crew that cares for the turf located around the Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline, Ill.

Richard Roels agrees. He supervises the nine-member crew that expands to 13 members during the summer. “We use Deere products every day, but it isn’t everyday that we get to help shape a new one,” Roels said. “We welcomed the opportunity.”

The grounds crew uses eight John Deere mowers to cut about 170 acres of turf each week. The World Headquarters includes 120 acres, of which one-half gets mowed twice a week. The remaining 50 acres are located at other Deere facilities within the Quad Cities area.

“Every week, we can put more than 30 hours on every machine,” Roels said. “And all of those hours were tracked by the MowerPlus App.”

Tracking Lawn Care

MowerPlus was launched in April to customers in North America. It’s one application in a growing series of apps developed for use on iOS and Android smartphones.

“We’ve been developing apps for various activities for our Agriculture, Construction, and Forestry customers. This is the first for our residential Turf customers,” Donini said. “All of our apps are a mobile supplement to the operator’s manual and provide step-by-step instructions on how customers can optimize and maintain their mowing equipment. MowerPlus does all of that and it has other features we haven’t included in other apps.”

Those features include tracking the user’s current mowing session with average mowing speed, area covered, and other real-time statistics. An aerial view of the mowing path for each session can help the user change up mowing patterns to help protect turf health. The app also tells the user how long it has been since they last mowed, and it collects and tracks information that allows the user to better use and care for the mower.

“We wanted the app to be a ‘Fit Bit’ of sorts for your lawn tractor and for your yard,” Donini said, referring to the popular pedometer worn around your wrist that downloads your exercise and sleep patterns to your computer or smartphone.

The iOS version of the app also includes model-specific information on set-up, maintenance, and operation of the user’s mower. Seamless integration with the Apple Watch means users can start and stop recording a mowing session from the watch and automatically sync statistics with the app.

 

While the app is meant for homeowners, seeing how a professional grounds crew used it gave us a lot of ideas to make it better.”

—Mario Donini

Donini and the development team worked with experts at John Deere Turf & Utility to create region-specific seasonal timelines that feed climate-related tips and reminders year round. Mowing history is stored in the feed, and users can add lawn maintenance tasks such as fertilizing, seeding or aerating for full lawn-care documentation.

“Mowing the lawn is so much more than just making tall grass short,” said Kevin Duax, product line planner for John Deere. “With our MowerPlus app, homeowners can easily refer to expert tips and historical data to ensure efficient and effective lawn upkeep.”

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• New MowerPlus App is designed for use on iOS and Android smartphones
• Users can view historical data to adjust their mowing patterns and schedule
• App helps homeowners track lawn care and maintenance
• Maintenance advice and lawn-care tips are delivered based on weather, season, and the app’s usage with a compatible mower
• The app is available for free at the iTunes App store and Google Play

How it Works

The homeowner must start a timer on the app to begin and carry the phone while they mow. The app then utilizes GPS location information to track the user on the mower, which creates a map, and logs other statistics. When finished, the user stops the timer.

All of the personal information the app collects stays on the user’s mobile phone. “We only collect high-level information,” Donini says. “We use that information to gain a better understanding of how and when our customers use their equipment, and to help shape the communication delivered by the app.”

For example, if mowers have been idle in certain areas of the country due to an extended period of rain and wet conditions, users of the app in these areas will receive messages on how to properly mow tall grass.

“A lot of people like to get in there and just cut at their regular height,” Donini says. “But when the grass is high, it’s best to cut at a higher setting, then come back and mow a second time and at the regular setting. The app will walk users through changing these settings.”

The app also keeps track of a user’s total mowing hours and can remind them when to change the oil, sharpen the blades, or change a filter.

“You can add your dealer’s contact information in the app, so when a service note is delivered to you, all you have to do is contact your dealer to schedule it,” Donini said. “Some of our dealers will even load the app on the customer’s phone and add the model information when they deliver the customer’s mower so it’s all right there.”

The app also tracks your total mowing hours and can remind you when to change the oil, sharpen the blades or change a filter.

A Connected Mowing Experience

It has been several years since John Deere added GPS-enabled technology and modular telematics gateways to its large-horsepower equipment, allowing machines to track and report performance. However, this is the first time a customer’s mobile phone is used to do the job, according to Joshua Hoffman, user experience manager for John Deere.

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Mowing Perfection

The app delivers seasonal lawn-care advice and regular service reminders based on the app’s usage with a compatible mower.

“Normally it is the machine gathering the data and sharing it with a mobile device synced to it,” Hoffman said. “So we had to take a different approach in developing this app.”

Hoffman and his team at MTIC worked with a user-experience team at John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) in Urbandale, Iowa, to help develop the app. ISG creates on-board applications, from guidance and machine control, to field, crop, and work site solutions, that run on monitors within a machine’s cab and on synced tablets.

“We use mapping frameworks in those applications,” Hoffman said. “Those frameworks are incredibly accurate given a customer’s access to satellite signals. So the difference here is that we are using the framework on a phone, rather than a machine. It was a bit of an experiment.”

That experiment included understanding how detailed the mapping would be when collected on a phone. And that’s where the grounds crew at the World Headquarters came in.

“In some areas it was really accurate,” Roels said. “We were surprised to see just how accurate it was, especially in areas with strong cellular signals. But there were some areas with poor reception where the mapping wasn’t accurate. That’s understandable. Still, the app gave our crew a birds-eye view of their mowing performance, and that helped us understand the mowing schedule better.”

Donini credits the grounds crew at Deere & Company for helping shape the app for future updates. “Some of us here at MTIC tested the app ourselves, but seeing how the app worked for our grounds crew was insightful,” Donini said.  “While the app is meant for homeowners, seeing how a professional grounds crew used it gave us a lot of ideas to make it better.”

Connecting with Customers

The MowerPlus app is a hit with customers. It has logged more than 1,000 hours of mowing time since it was launched and has been downloaded thousands of times. It also has been featured in several newspapers, magazines and online blogs.

“We’re really pleased with the number of downloads so far,” Hoffman said. “From an innovation standpoint, we’re always exploring how we can connect our customers, our equipment, and the job at hand with technology. Mowing is a job — some people love it and see it as stress relief — while others get stressed out about it.”

“We use technology to allow the customer to take a different look at the job at hand so they can get better use of their equipment, and ultimately, make the job easier,” Hoffman said. “We can use technology to make these connections, but the best connection is the one we make with our customers.”

To download the MowerPlus App, visit the iTunes App Store or Google Play.

For more information about John Deere’s residential mowing products, visit JohnDeere.com/Residential2016.

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New Smartphone App Simplifies Mowing Decisions

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