Field Maintenance
(Mittlere Au, Austria)

Heading south on Pettenbacher Straße from the quiet village of Bad Wimsbad-Neydharting, after crossing the railroad tracks of the Lambach-Vorchdorf narrow-gauge rail line, the second possible right turn will lead one down the first of four possible single-lane asphalt paved roadways known as Mittlere Au*. Along Mittlere Au, just past its first intersection (with itself**) and then a few yards up at the rail crossing, there can be seen off to the right (in a slight half-wooded depression) the connecting companion ponds of the local fish farmer’s workplace, along with (in the near distance) a handful of rooftops from the Untere Au village dwellings. To the left of the crossing, on the western edge of the rail tracks, just a few yards ahead, one will also notice the shelter and signage for the almost non-existent grass and concrete platform of the “Au” stop on the narrow-gauge rail line. Seen directly across the tracks to the east, from the rail station’s platform and shelter, is a well-maintained clearing roughly the size of a standard Olympic swimming pool. This open field is surrounded on one side (its western edge) by the slightly elevated narrow-gauge railway tracks, while on the other three sides it is pinned in solidly by the tightly packed rows of regional fir trees, together with a variety of wild foliage and scrub. Along the eastern edge of the field, just inside the protection of this surrounding foliage, runs an expanse of neatly organized, continuous covered stacks of various cut wood and lumber. In front of the lumber groupings—which in some abstract way can appear to resemble a crowd of local fans packed inside a small-town sports stadium—a small and quiet, battery operated machine can oftentimes be seen rolling along (can one say at a turtle’s pace?), back and forth, mimicking what seems to be some sort of mysterious game with just one player. In distracted observation, before having noticed the slow-moving machine, its quiet vibrations can be easily mistaken for the approaching sounds of the single historic railcar running here and there sprightly along the narrow-gauge tracks. After a moment’s concentration it becomes clear however that the sound emanates not from the railway tracks, but instead from the low-cut grass of the field below. And then with an increase in sound, and if not already present in the field, the rumbling apparatus will present itself somewhere from the edge of the trees and weeds and wildflowers. This lone machine—low and streamlined, dark green, with two large rear heavy-duty wheels, a racing stripe of some sort, and what appears to be a pair of small headlights—could even be said to resemble a state of the art, contemporary electric-powered sports car (e.g. the Citroën Survolt, or the Venturi Volage) or perhaps a miniature uncategorized and unknown, (perhaps even?) currently in development, prototype military tank of some sort.

As this self-driving automated machine (no larger than a standard bed pillow, or a medium-sized pizza box) appears neither to be cutting or watering the grass, or performing any other lawn maintenance maneuver of any kind, it is unclear what its actual role might be in the open grass arena. During the random days of the week that this roving machine appears and can be observed (there is no regular schedule), it is clear to note that it functions with an automated sensor type of rolling mechanism that can detect upcoming obstacles, and when needed, shift its course in an alternate direction—a technology that will be most recognized from those infomercial-friendly automated UFO-shaped roving home vacuum cleaners used by a variety of house pets who have been trained (or have trained themselves) to ride around kitchen floors on tragicomic journeys with no destinations.

Over the past year, after ten randomly scheduled observation days, the green automated, self-guided field-roving machine has shown no interaction with any local animals or pets in the surrounding area, outside of the once skeptical and distanced curiosity of a local springtime fox. And most likely due to the sparsely populated location, there has as well been no interaction between the machine and any resident of the area or possible owner of either the field or machine.

After brief discussion with four inter-village walkers and a small selection of passengers from the small-gauge train, it was discovered however that this diligently active small machine is in fact a Rasenmäher-Roboter: a so-called “lawn-mowing robot”. Of all parties questioned, a calm and mild-mannered, elderly gentleman, one who seemed to always be staring at some aircraft in the distance, even made it clear that this was a growing new trend in lawn care much beloved in the region. In the end, the man—after a few quiet pauses in delivery, in order to take in the sounds of the passing thunder—went so far as to point out that the model in service was a Husqvarna Automower 230 ACX, a predecessor to the most recent 330X offering on the market. It was also noted by this well-informed passerby that the described model’s racing stripe was not original and that this was clearly an altered and visually modified machine.

*It should be relayed that three of these four options are to be found one after the other on the right side (the western side) of Pettenbacher Straße, while the fourth, or in the reality, in linear fashion, the second option, when driving southbound on Pettenbacher, will be seen along the left hand (eastern) side of the street.

**It should also be noted that the second Mittlere Au roadway on the right side of Pettenbacher Straße actually doubles back on to itself, with a hard right curve at the woodworker’s studio.