London – A California-based startup claims to be able to help farmers become more environmentally friendly and efficient by selling the world’s first fully autonomous, self-driving tractor.
According to Monarch Tractor, the compact tractor can be designed to perform tasks such as plowing, harvesting, and mowing, and can run for up to 10 hours on a five-hour fee.
While it does not need a driver, it must have a dedicated remote operator who receives real-time warnings and can stop the vehicle if necessary to comply with US regulations. It has sensors that can detect livestock and crops, as well as collision avoidance systems that enable it to function alongside farmworkers autonomously.
Agriculture Is Prepared For Change
Monarch founder and CEO Praveen Penmetsa says he knows how technology can shape an industry after nearly two decades operating in the mobility and energy sectors. “Seeing those two sectors evolve gave me a blueprint and the belief that agriculture is able to transform internationally,” Penmetsa tells CNN Business.
Monarch claims that when one of its tractors replaces a diesel vehicle and is powered by green energy, it will save 53 tons of CO2 per year, which is the equivalent of getting 14 oil passenger cars off the track.
The tractors will also gather data while operating, providing farmers with information on field and crop health as well as long-term yields, as well as alerting them to issues like irrigation leakage or crop discoloration.
Penmetsa and his team of more than 50 engineers at Monarch’s headquarters in Livermore, California, raised $20 million in March, and the firm is now launching a number of pilot initiatives on operating farms in three states.
It will market its first tractors to farmers in California, Washington, and Oregon for $50,000 within the next two months. Monarch will collaborate with the farmers to validate the engines, with commercial production expected later this year.
The tractors, according to Monarch, will save farmers thousands of dollars in labor and fuel costs per year.
Farmers are under the pressure, according to David Rose, an associate professor of agricultural innovation at the University of Reading, to juggle feeding a rising population with expanded consumer demand for organic produce when dealing with labor shortages.
“Farmers are being asked to do an awful lot,” he says. “I don’t think we think of all the struggles farmers have faced to bring the food on the table three times a day.”
He claims that the Monarch tractor’s most transformative aspect at this point is that it is mechanical. “It’s great to get away from the gas-guzzling, diesel-guzzling… equipment,” he says.
Bear Flag robotics in California, Agrointelli in Denmark, and John Deere, which has developed an autonomous electric tractor design, are among the companies focusing on driverless tractors. Monarch is the first company to market a self-driving electric tractor.
However, many nations do not have a regulatory system in place for self-driving cars. “Policy and legislation need to get a grip on this modern method of farming profoundly,” Rose says. “Before then, I don’t believe the full advantages of autonomy can be understood.”
The possibility of farmers being able to use data to offer greater transparency to consumers excites Penmetsa the most. He envisions food packaging with a QR code that shoppers can check to get details about how the product was produced.
“We want consumers to appreciate what it takes for a farmer to put food on the table,” he says. “I believe we can build a direct bridge if farmers can say the story through data.”