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Green, clean lawns the autonomous way

Suamico-based RC Mowers recently released its self-driving mower

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August 23, 2023

SUAMICO – Needing a change from his job as Director of Technical Development with Lockheed Martin in 2018, Michael Brandt pursued an idea far from his aviation expertise. 

That idea led to the birth of RC Mowers (RCM) – a Suamico-based company specializing in remote-control/autonomous mowers.

“I started looking at concepts/ideas and exploring if there was a market,” the founder/CEO said. “The more I researched, the more I noticed the market was hugely under-served with a lot of potential. I went from leading efforts in aviation safety and certification to making mowers – it was completely different.”

Before he knew it, Brandt said he was designing parts, writing control system specifications and laying the foundations of a functioning business. 

“Eventually, I started hiring people who could help with production,” he said. “Within a few months, we moved into a building next door to our current location. I set up a white folding table and a laptop and got to work.”

Over the following 18 months, Brandt said the company occupied most of that building as it expanded into additional warehouses/markets and added more dealerships, territories and employees.

Fast forward five years, RCM is now located in a brand new, $4.8-million facility at 2158 E. Deerfield Ave.

Though Brandt said he underestimated how difficult it was to start a business, he knew one thing for certain.

“I didn’t underestimate that there was significant market potential for labor-saving machines,” he said. “I got that part right.”

How the mowers work
With the remote-control mowers, Brandt said an operator stands “a safe distance away” with a remote in hand.

“The operator can control all of the functions of the mower – such as starting it, turning on the blades, driving it, stopping it – from the palm of his/her hand,” he said. “It’s a large industrial piece weighing close to 2,000 pounds, so you have to be fully aware of your surroundings. The camera is only used to check for up-close, large objects – things that could damage the machine or prevent you from doing the job.”

A typical remote-control mower, Brandt said, can cut the weeds/brush/grass in the median of an interstate in a safe, efficient manner.

The remote-control mower is best suited for hard-to-reach areas where steep slopes and wet conditions prevail. Photo Courtesy of RC Mowers

“It can also be used in hard-to-reach places in wet conditions and along steep embankments,” he said. “That’s where the safety aspect comes into play – you don’t have to risk rollovers.”

The autonomous mowers, Brandt said, are a bit more sophisticated.

“It’s a familiar mower, similar to one people might use today,” he said. “But, on the left side control panel, there are a few extra buttons that allow the operator to create the programming and autonomy.”

Basically, Brandt said, the operator mows a perimeter around the property to be cut, and the mower does the rest.

“You get off the mower and it knows what to do and mows the area in an efficient pattern,” he said. “You can also plan areas not to cut, such as a pond, flower bed, playground or a dense patch of trees. The mower knows how to go around these non-cut areas.”

Brandt said another cool aspect of the mower is its memory capabilities.

“If you come back the next week, all you have to do is drive the mower into the area previously cut, and it knows it’s been there before,” he said. “It’s done through a whole bunch of tools. It’s many things together, like GPS, communication, cloud servers and an app on your phone.”

One autonomous mower is “great,” Brandt said, but many customers purchase two or three at a time.

“Having one mower running helps, but it probably doesn’t move the needle far enough,” he said. “The more mowers you have running, the more efficient it is.”

To be clear, Brandt said, the autonomous mower technology doesn’t replace a human in many aspects.

“As of now, the mower doesn’t perform well in tight, complex areas, such as an orchard or a playground,” he said. “The mower has vision and safety sensors, but it just can’t compete with a person’s vision and their ability to navigate tricky areas. While the mower makes quick work of large open areas, a person is still required to do fine detail along edges and complex regions. It cuts straighter than a human, shows up to work on time and doesn’t complain, but it’s a long way away from what a person can do today. The technology will advance over time.”

Brandt said autonomous mowers were always the eventual goal of RCM, but it took a few years for that to come to fruition.

“We used the remote control product line to generate funds for the autonomous mower,” he said. “We didn’t have venture capital available to start with, so we had to generate our own through traditional business operations – that’s allowed us to get to this point.”

Benefits of the mowers
Brandt said, initially, safety was the No. 1 reason for starting RCM.

“We said, ‘Everyone is going to get our mowers because they are safer,’” he said. “There are rollovers and people getting hurt all the time (on traditional riding mowers), so customers will need these mowers. While safety is a valid concern, it didn’t drive our sales and motivate customers to buy as much as I thought it would.”

Brandt said the largest factor that drives sales today is better efficiency.

The autonomous mower can mow large sections of grass quickly and efficiently – without the use of a human. Photo Courtesy of RC Mowers 
“We provide efficiency gains of more than 90%,” he said. “In a job that used to take 40 hours, now it takes two hours. It takes a job that needed five people all day down to one person and a couple of hours – efficiency drives the economics. As a business owner, you’re always looking for ways to become more efficient and save money. The money saved on labor can be put to better use within a company.”

In current times, with unemployment at an all-time low, Brandt said the mowers also help with problems associated with labor shortages.

“How can a business expand if they can’t get more people?” he said. “We are solving the labor problems, and the increased safety is a bonus.”

It’s helping, not hurting
Brandt said he hasn’t gotten any negative feedback from customers about how RCM mowers take away jobs.

“If my only job is to use a string trimmer and work in wet and nasty terrain all day for 40 hours per week, then I might feel threatened,” he said. “But that job is hard on the body and no one really wants to do it. Our machines are filling job openings that most people don’t want to do anyway.”

Brandt said most businesses/customers recognize that mowers aren’t displacing jobs.

“They aren’t taking jobs away because the jobs can’t be filled to begin with,” he said. “These were the messages we got before COVID-19, and now every industry is dealing with labor shortages.”

Brandt said a landscaping company is a good example of how RCM mowers can help.

“You have to mow grass, but it’s the least profitable side of landscaping,” he said. “You have to cut grass to get the other more profitable jobs. We’re making half of the revenue stream more profitable and freeing up labor to work on tasks that add more value and profit – everybody wins.”

Brandt said he compares RCM mowers to when robotics were introduced into the auto industry.

“When that began, people were in an uproar,” he said. “Years later, I can’t imagine how we could build a car without robots.”

Brandt said most of the product is designed in the Suamico facility, and all of it is assembled at the location.

“We have many local partners,” he said. “These companies specialize in part fabrication – they cut the metal, shape it, bend it, weld it and paint it. We bring those finished pieces here for assembly.”

Brandt said he knew he had to lean on local manufacturers to make it all happen.

“I can’t do that myself,” he said. “It would have taken years for me to obtain facilities and equipment and millions of dollars. I also knew I couldn’t do a better job than these local suppliers – there is no better place than Northeast Wisconsin for manufacturing.”

A nice honor
Recently, RCM was listed as one of Fast Company’s (a monthly American business magazine focused on technology, business and design) World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2023 – coming in at No. 10.

Michael Brandt

“It’s certainly a nice feather in the cap for a scrappy business like RCM that sits just north of Green Bay,” Brandt said. “It’s amazing to think we’re on a list along with high-tech companies from Silicon Valley and Austin. It goes to show if you bring the right people together with the right values behind a great mission, there are amazing things you can do.”

Who buys the products?
Brandt said RCM mowers are in “every corner of the U.S.,” including Hawaii.

“We have also sold in Canada, Mexico and Australia,” he said. “We’ve been able to grow our sales and distribution.”

Brandt said RCM won’t turn away anyone interested in purchasing a mower, but the company focuses its efforts in certain areas.

“We have many customers, but our largest group is commercial contractors,” he said. “These are the people trying to grow their business and become more efficient. Next, it’s municipalities and DOTs (Departments of Transportation) – they take care of ditches, roadways, etc. Federal, state and local parks are also significant. These areas are where we spend most of our time and effort. If someone from a golf course said they’d like to buy one, sure, we’d sell them one, but that’s not our focus.”

The future
Whenever someone asks Brandt – “where do you go next?” – he said he always gives the same answer.

“We want to perfect what we do today,” he said. “We want to focus on doing the absolute best at what we’re doing now, improving our products to make sure we remove any frustrations our customers might have.”

Brandt said RCM plans to “continue its tremendous growth.” 

“We have certain goals ahead of us,” he said. “One of them – becoming three or four times the size we are now in a short period. Are there new products in there? Absolutely.”

RCM is always looking to hire motivated and hard-working employees who want to be a part of the company’s growth, Brandt said.

To learn more about RCM and view demonstrations, visit

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