Monarch Tractor this morning announced the delivery of its first MK-V unit. The “smart tractor” is electric and what the Bay Area-based company refers to as “driver optional” (terms like “autonomous” and “self-driving” come with their own unique baggage). We’ll just refer to it as a “robot tractor” from here on.
The system was unveiled a bit under two or so years ago. The timing was certainly right. The average age of a U.S. farmer is around 55, and hiring people to help out has become increasingly difficult. Agtech robotics is absolutely a category to be watching closely over the next few years, even amid rough economic headwinds for venture capital.
The first unit is going to wine producer Constellation Brands, which bought a half dozen of the tractors. Additional shipments “to family farms and other large multinational corporations” are also on their way.
“This is a momentous day for Monarch Tractor that has been years in the making,” Monarch co-founder and CEO Praveen Penmetsa said in a release. “Our team has worked tirelessly and relentlessly with a mission to make farming more profitable and sustainable. We’re proud to see our commitment to technological innovation and sustainable solutions culminate in celebrating our first tractor off the production line, which, I might add, is powered by renewable energy.”
The system is powered, in part, by Nvidia’s Jetson platform. That helps manage both driver assistance and the aforementioned “driver-optional modes.” There are several options for that implementation, including a “show mode,” wherein the system follows a worker. That’s managed, in part, by the inclusion of 360-degree camera systems for monitoring its surroundings and implementing various safety features.
Those imaging systems also play a role in another big piece of this. Data collection is arguably the most important role these sorts of systems play. Here that means the ability to monitor larger trends in crop health, yield and growth. These sorts of things are extremely important to farmers when it comes to managing current and future crops.
Monarch has thus far raised $100 million, including a $61 million round last year. It is set to begin manufacturing its systems in Ohio starting next year.