January 28, 2023

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Nvidia-Powered ‘Smart Tractors’ Enable Autonomous Farming

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(Photo: Monarch Tractor)
Farming is heading in an entirely new direction if Nvidia and a new California startup have anything to say about it. Monarch Tractor, a company based just east of Silicon Valley, has built autonomous electric tractors using Nvidia’s artificial intelligence platform. The first of its shipments are rolling out to California farms and vineyards this week.

MK-V, Monarch’s flagship “smart tractor,” uses Nvidia’s Jetson edge AI platform to conduct farming duties without a human driver. As the tractor makes its way down rows of crops, multiple 3D cameras and six standard cameras feed visual data into six Xavier NX system-on-modules (small, high-performance computers). This data works with the tractor’s onboard touch-screen panel to make long-term yield estimates, take stock of crops’ current growth stages, and track plant health metrics. If a human is behind the wheel, they can monitor these metrics via real-time graphic updates, as well as view current and forecasted weather conditions and the cameras’ 360-degree field of vision.

(Image: Monarch Tractor)

The tractor itself is said to reduce emissions by using electricity instead of diesel, which powers most large farm equipment. The MK-V’s battery, which takes anywhere from 5 to 12 hours to reach full capacity depending on the charger used, offers a 10-hour runtime at an average 30kW. Monarch claims the MK-V has twice the torque as your average tractor. Though its base capabilities appear to be data-gathering, the MK-V can also work with implements like harvesters and sprayers to collect crops and apply weedkiller, pesticides, fertilizer, and water.

Monarch Tractor’s first commercial customer is wine, beer, and spirits producer Constellation Brands, Nvidia said. Constellation was given the keys to the first of six MK-Vs Wednesday, bookending Monarch’s two-year development and initial production phase. Monarch’s own study claims each MK-V can save farms $2,600 and 34,000 pounds of emitted carbon dioxide. This is accounting only for fuel cost savings, meaning farms stand to save even more on labor. This has obvious implications for the agricultural industry, which employed 2.6 million people in 2020, accounting for 1.4 percent of the country’s jobs.

As with other autonomous agricultural equipment, it’s unclear whether Monarch will help those currently employed by farms develop the skills necessary to operate its smart tractors.

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