Silicon Valley start-up debuts electric tractor

In December last year, agriculture technology start-up company Monarch Tractor, which has been referred to as the ‘Tesla of the agriculture world’, introduced the world’s first single unit, fully electric, driver-optional smart tractor.

Silicon Valley start-up debuts electric tractor
Utilising machine learning, the Monarch tractor is able to digest data captured while operating to provide long-term analysis of field health, improving accuracy the longer it runs.
Photo: Monarch Tractor
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Based in California’s Silicon Valley and run by a team that includes big names such as former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, Monarch Tractor aims to start delivering its fully electric, autonomous tractor at a price tag of US$50 000 (about R730 000), by the end of this year.

The company said in a statement released to announce the launch of the tractor that the machine would “usher in the digital transformation of farming with unprecedented intelligence, technology and safety features”.

According to the company, some of the many challenges the tractor would address include labour shortages, the effects of climate change, worker safety, increased customer scrutiny for sustainability and government regulations on issues such as carbon emissions.

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Monarch Tractor, the statement said, tackled these challenges by combining electrification, automation, machine learning and data analysis to enhance farmers’ existing operations, increase labour productivity and safety, cut overhead costs and emissions, and maximise yield.

The company said it had already secured several hundred working farms as preliminary customers.

Monarch Tractor is working to utilise 21st century technology to empower farmers by enabling profitable implementation of sustainable and organic practices. The tractor platform combines mechanisation, automation and data analysis to enhance farmers’ existing operations.

“We have assembled a world-class team of farmers, engineers and scientists to meet today’s farming demands and are empowering farmers by giving them intelligent tools to collect more predictive data to implement sustainable practices, better share their [stories] and make more money,” Praveen Penmetsa, co-founder and CEO of Monarch Tractor, said in a statement.

Key features of the Monarch tractor include:

Renewable technology
Traditional diesel tractors produce roughly 14 times the emissions as the average car. The Monarch tractor is 100% electric and has zero tailpipe emissions. It also serves as a 3-in-1 electrification tool, operating not only as a tractor but, with extra storage, as an ATV and as a powerful generator in the field.

Driver optional
The Monarch tractor can operate with or without a driver. The company uses the latest autonomous hardware and software technology to provide driver-assist and driver-optional operations. The tractor can perform preprogrammed tasks without a driver, or an operator can use Monarch’s interactive automation features, including Gesture and Shadow modes, to enable the tractor to follow a worker on the job.

Unprecedented safety
The Monarch tractor is packed with safety features such as roll and collision prevention, vision-based PTO safety, and 360° cameras to keep operations running smoothly and employees safe, day or night.

Deep learning and sensing suite
The Monarch tractor collects and analyses over 240GB of crop data every day that it operates in the field. It can work with farmers’ current implements as well as the next generation of smart implements.

Sensors and imaging provide
data that can be used for real-time implement adjustments, as well as long-term yield estimates, current growth stages and other plant/crop health metrics. The data collected is stored securely in a Monarch cloud.

Smart device operation
Via a smartphone or personal device, users receive tractor alerts, updates on current micro-weather conditions, detailed operations reports, data collection, analysis, and storage for more efficient farm planning.

The tractor’s electric drivetrain is capable of providing 30kW of continuous power and short-duration peak power of up to 55kW in a small footprint for multipurpose usage.
Quoted in the statement, Carlo Mondavi, chief farming officer at Monarch Tractor, said that as a fourth-generation farmer he had seen first-hand the hazards that farming presented not just to workers, but to the environment as well.

“Monarch Tractor is moving farming towards a safer and sustainable future by eliminating harmful emissions, reducing the need for herbicides, and keeping workers out of harm’s way with its driver-optional capabilities,” Mondavi said.

Monarch Tractor has received critical acclaim for its innovation. It was named 2020 Tractor of the Year at the AgTech Breakthrough Awards and was named one of World Ag Expo’s Top 10 Best New Products.