Innovators Andrew Ewen and Steven Waelbers
Ages 49 and 30
Co-founders of Kobi Co., a year-old New York startup with five employees
Form and function
The Kobi robot uses interchangeable attachments to autonomously mow, remove leaves, and clear snow once it has, Roomba-like, learned its route.
With an accompanying smartphone app, an owner trains the 2-foot-tall Kobi by steering it over grass, walkways, or driveways. The robot weighs as much as 200 pounds, depending on battery capacity.
The company has raised about $750,000 from angel investors, the founders, and a grant from the Belgian government and is working to raise more.
Over beers in 2014, Ewen and Waelbers—then co-workers at the same bank—discussed a snow-clearing robot that Waelbers, a lifelong hobbyist, had been developing. The two men quit to start Kobi out of Ewen’s Long Island garage the next year
Ewen and Waelbers are targeting small businesses and homeowners who don’t want to maintain their own properties or hire landscapers.
Once trained, the robot can mow, mulch, collect leaves, or blow snow by itself, using one of three attachments. Cameras, GPS, and sensors keep it on track and away from people and other obstacles. Its recharging station is included.
While other robots can mow grass or clean gutters, Kobi’s leaf- and snowblowing are unique.
The company plans to get feedback on 10 early production models from beta testers starting this month and to sell the robot for $4,000 through dealers in early 2017. John Santagate, an analyst at researcher IDC, says modular robots are the future and that the Kobi is setting the bar for lawn-care bots. “I’m excited to follow them,” he says, “and see where this goes.”