The compact tractor can be programmed to perform tasks such as plowing, harvesting and mowing and can run for up to 10 hours from a five-hour load, according to its manufacturers, Monarch Tractor.
Although you do not need a driver, to comply with U.S. regulations you must have a designated remote operator who receives real-time alerts and can stop the vehicle if necessary. It has sensors capable of detecting livestock and crops and collision prevention systems that allow it to operate autonomously alongside agricultural workers.
With nearly two decades of experience working in the mobility and energy sectors, Monarch founder and CEO Praveen Penmetsa says he understands how technology can shape an industry. “Seeing these two industries transform gave me a template and the idea that global agriculture is ready for transformation,” Penmetsa tells CNN Business.
Monarch says that when one of its tractors replaces a diesel vehicle and is charged with renewable electricity, it can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 53 tonnes a year, which is equivalent to taking 14 petrol cars off the road.
Tractors are also able to collect data while they are operating, which can provide farmers with information on field and crop health and long-term yields, as well as alert them to problems such as irrigation leaks or crop discoloration. .
The company raised $ 20 million in March and Penmetsa and its team of more than 50 engineers at Monarch headquarters in Livermore, California, are launching a series of pilot initiatives on farms in three states.
Over the next two months, it will sell its first tractors to farmers in California, Washington and Oregon at a starting price of $ 50,000. Farmers will work with Monarch to test the vehicles and the company expects to start commercial production later this year.
Monarch says tractors can save farmers thousands of dollars a year in labor and fuel costs.
“Society asks farmers to do a lot”
David Rose, an associate professor of agricultural innovation at the University of Reading, says farmers are pushing harder and harder to feed a growing population with increasing demand for sustainable products by customers, while addressing labor shortages.
“Society is asking farmers to do a lot,” he says. “I don’t think we look at the dish three times a day and think about all the challenges farmers have had to put this food on the table.”
He says that at this stage, the most transformative feature of the Monarch tractor is that it is electric. “Getting away from gasoline, gasoline equipment … it’s fantastic,” he says.
Other companies work on driverless tractors, including robotics Bear Flag based in California, Denmark Agrointelli and John Deere, which has developed a concept of autonomous electric tractor. Monarch is the first to sell a stand-alone electric tractor.
But many countries lack a legal framework for autonomous vehicles. “Politics and regulation must fundamentally understand this new way of cultivating,” Rose says. “Until then, I think the potential benefits of autonomy will not be fully realized.”
Penmetsa is very excited about the possibility for farmers to use the data to provide greater transparency to customers. It plans to have a QR code on food packaging that buyers can scan to access information about how the product was grown.
“We want consumers to value what the farmer has gone through to put food on the table,” he says. “If farmers can tell this story through data, I think we can create a direct bridge.”