Watch CBS News

Atherton Earth Day festival hosts grass mowing competition between sheep and robots

Sheep vs. robot grass mowing competition held at Atherton's Earth Day Festival
Sheep vs. robot grass mowing competition held at Atherton's Earth Day Festival 03:59

On Sunday, Earth Day events were happening all over the Bay Area, but one of the most unusual was in the town of Atherton, where the effort to protect the planet boiled down to a tongue-in-cheek fight over the best way to mow a lawn.

At the Earth Day Festival in Atherton, they wanted to promote the benefits of using environmentally friendly lawn equipment. But that's where the friendliness ended. On the other side of the park, it was a bitter battle of A.I. versus ewes, sheep versus robot — put to a vote.

"This seems like it's funny and all jest. It's not," said Kenneth Frederick with the Atherton Environmental Committee. "It's very serious."

Actually, it wasn't serious at all. The competition for eco-gentle lawn care pitted a flock of sheep from UC Davis against a new-fangled autonomous lawn mower from Husqvarna.

The mower acts like an outdoor Roomba, moving back and forth over a lawn, cutting the grass automatically using a GPS sensing tower.

"What it does, it talks to the GPS, to the satellites, talks to the mower and talks to the little home, the base station," said Husqvarna's Jalen Rocha. "And then you draw points along the lawn and close the points out and it makes a little square and it knows where to go."

The advantage is it can mow at anytime, day or night, makes almost no noise, and will automatically find its way back to the charging station when the battery gets low. And they say, because it's used more frequently, it causes a lot less shock to lawns than normal weekly mowing, which chops off larger pieces of the plant.

"With the robot, you cut them a couple days a week, three or four days a week," said Frederick. "There's no cost because they're running on a battery, and they do no damage.  In fact, the lawns are much healthier."

But not everyone is sold on the technology.

"You want to watch me vote? Look at that, here we go! Vote for the sheep! Sheep mowers kick robot grass!" said Haven Kiers, laughing.

The UC Davis Landscape Architecture professor had had enough of the mower. She said her sheep have something that trumps high tech. They're cute and kind of fun to watch.

"Let's look! Let's look at the people watching, photographing the sheep," she said.  "Oh, and then there's the robotic mower. Do you see anyone? Or is it hidden in the corner with no one watching?"

The sheep can also graze on hilly terrain and Kiers said watching them has a naturally calming effect on people. But it was the cute factor that seemed to be swaying the public vote.

"Well, they're cuter," said 9-year-old Margaret.  "It has to be something cute for me in order to win, because, yeah, I like cute stuff."

"Well, I just voted for the sheep," said Emeric Chang. "You know, organic matter over metal. I don't think they pose that big of a danger."

Raphi Schooley, 8, voted for the robot because he likes A.I. better than sheep.  But he was wondering if there wasn't some way to combine the two.

"And you could always get a robot, or a hybrid version of a sheep, and make it grow their fur faster," he said. "You can have, like, an infinite fur machine that gives infinite fur that lasts forever."

Atherton staged the "sheep versus robot" contest as a way to remind people that the state of California has banned gas-powered lawn equipment, effective July 1, 2024. But this was no popularity contest. Well, actually it was. So, it wasn't a big surprise when Alina Chabot counted the votes and announced the winner.

"The answer to the sheep versus robot competition is 20 to 103, and the sheep won," she told the crowd.

So, score one for organic matter over metal. The sheep seemed relieved, but the robot sat quietly on its charging station, waiting, patiently waiting.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.