Santa Monica Startup Graze Wants to Make Lawn Mowing Electric (and Autonomous)

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Graze electric autonomous lawn mower
Photo by Decerry Donato

Is there any worse sound to wake up to than a gas-powered lawn mower? Not only are they a noise pollutant, but they are clunky environmental ones as well. Insert Graze, a Santa Monica-based startup looking to change the landscaping industry by building electric, autonomous lawn mowers.

On Tuesday at the Glendale Sports Complex, Glendale Mayor Paula Devine announced that the city will be the first in Los Angeles County to join Graze’s pilot program, allowing Glendale facilities like Sports Complex to its equipment. In exchange, the startup will be getting free beta-testing research.


Graze CEO John Vlay said that he hopes other municipalities will follow Glendale’s lead. “Gas-powered mowers are just so polluting and have been unregulated for so many years,” Vlay, a 30-year veteran of the landscaping industry, told dot.LA.

Graze CEO John Vlay

Graze CEO John Vlay.

Image courtesy of Graze

The showcase came five months after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law that bans the sale of new gas-powered landscaping equipment in an effort to curb emissions. (The new law takes effect at the start of 2024.) According to Environmental Protection Agency data, gas-powered lawn mowers account for 5% of total air pollution in the U.S.

As a gathered crowd listened to Vlay speak, one of Graze’s machines, roughly the size of a go-cart, mowed the Glendale Sports Complex grass. The sound that emitted from the mower was minimal compared to gas-powered mowers; Vlay didn’t even have to use a microphone to be heard.

Three engineers were onsite and paraded the mowers across the field using a tablet that mapped the perimeter and locked in the boundaries that the mower must stay in.

From there, the mower continued to make parallel passes, at 1.5 meters per second, throughout the field. The battery life of one mower can last up to eight hours, while the mowers have also been tested on rocky and undulated terrain.

A Graze mower consists of two large sections. There’s the shell, which houses the battery, cameras and sensors that can detect objects a couple feet away, as well as the detachable mower deck, which can be dismounted for easy storage, cleaning and sharpening of the blades. Vlay boasted that the detachable mower deck was built with future attachments in mind, such as a leaf blower or golf ball picker.

Graze autonomous electric lawnmower demonstrationVideo by Decerry Donato

Currently, Graze has four robots completed, and its team is in the process of building more for future pilot programs that cities like Glendale may want to adopt. (The startup says it has secured over 400 pre-orders since launching 2017.) Though he did not disclose how much each unit will be sold for, Vlay said Graze’s business model is focused on “robot-as-a-service,” which would charge users for the machine per acre mowed and based on how difficult the mowing will be. With crowdfunding, Graze has raised over $9 million in funding split between 6,200 investors.

Vlay believes that the product will sell itself as more than just an eco-friendly option. “It really becomes a Swiss Army knife of lawn mower equipment,” he noted while watching the machine whir around the field quietly.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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