Monarch, a California-based maker of autonomous electric tractors, announced it had launched production of its first model, the MK-V. The first models of the MK-V, a driver-optional, all-electric tractor, will be going to Constellation Brands, a large wine and spirits producer. According to Monarch, the first six MK-Vs off the production line are heading to Constellation.
The MK-V reaches the production stage after four years of development. Monarch rolled outs its alpha-model tractor in 2019 and the beta model in 2020. After creating a pilot model and testing it at various farms around the US over the past year, the company will begin shipping the MK-V by the middle of next year. A 2023 MK-V will cost $68 thousand minus tax, extras, and a subscription service.
Each MK-V uses six NVIDIA Jetson Xavier NX chips to power its AI. The NVIDIA Jetson AI platform enables the tractor to operate in a field with only machine vision in situations where GPS is not available. Each MK-V has two 3D cameras and six normal cameras, and the machine can run models for multiple farming tasks when paired with different implements.
The operator can run a fleet of Monarchs using interactive automation features, including Shadow mode, where a Monarch follows a worker on the job. The MK-V can act as a tractor or utility vehicle as well as a generator in the field.
While the MK-V is still early in a nascent autonomous tractor market, Monarch is far from alone. John Deere and Yanmar are also building autonomous tractors, while Ztractor has been shipping its electric-powered Bearcub24 since 2019. Others, like the Netherlands’ Agxeed, have three Agbot models.
But with the MK-V, Monarch looks to have the first driver-optional electric tractor. The timing is good, as the MK-V comes at a time when the overall robot-powered ag market is heating up. According to Statista, the total automated tractor market is expected to reach $2.3 billion.
While the future looks bright for autonomous farming, that doesn’t mean most large farmers will embrace robotic fleets immediately. Instead, the integration will happen slowly over time, first with mixed fleets, as farmers adapt processes around seeding, weeding, and harvesting to utilize automation. Building skills for automated farming will also take time, which makes the idea of having a driver-optional tractor like the MK-V attractive.
Perhaps the most significant barrier to robotic farming is cost. The $68 thousand price tag of the MK-V is 2-3 times that of a conventional driver-only gas-powered tractor, so bringing on new tractors will require significant capital outlays for farmers, many of which operate on lean margins.