Farm Progress

Ag autonomy on display in Silicon Valley

Self-driving tractors were on display at the annual Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco.

Andy Castillo

April 6, 2024

3 Min Read
Monarch MK-V tractor
TRACTOR ATTRACTION: Monarch Tractor’s latest MK-V autonomous and electric tractor attracts a crowd at Agri-Tech World Innovation Summit in San Francisco.Andy Castillo

At the end of a darkened hallway, three levels below the hotel’s main entrance, spotlights shine on a sleek tractor, grabbing the attention of suited figures nearby. Some are investors browsing for winning technology; others represent tech startups. They’re all seeking business partners who can bring their autonomous vision to U.S. farm fields.

The self-driving, all-electric MK-V tractor from Monarch was one of the autonomous tractors on display at the 2024 Agri-Tech World Innovation Summit in San Francisco in March. The company says the tractor’s platform has the potential to be a catalyst for a smarter, cleaner farming future.

Not far from the MK-V, Agtonomy’s software was on display inside Bobcat’s new AT450X all-electric tractor.

“It’s a combination of a bunch of cameras, and it has GPS,” says Nic Fischer, an engineer at Agtonomy, a Silicon Valley startup. He gestures behind him to the AT450X, which integrates Agtonomy’s digital platform and sensors for automated operation. “The current operations we’re focused on are mowing, spraying and weeding.” After directing the machine where to go on a digital map, “the operator is only responsible for assigning the work.”

Designed to operate in vineyards and orchards, the AT450X is able to “learn” and dynamically react to its environment using artificial intelligence to distinguish between crops and weeds for precise spraying.

“Through strategic partnerships with companies like Agtonomy, we are committed to advancing our worksite solutions to help solve our customers’ toughest challenges,” says Scott Park, Bobcat’s CEO and vice chairman. “By combining our proven equipment with the latest technologies, we are reinventing how work gets done.”

Elsewhere, Collin Schmitz, a dealer support specialist for Amos Power, showcases the brand’s fully electric, automated tractor in an area designated to showcase machinery from startups.

“There are three dedicated motors, one in each track [85 hp each], and one in the PTO [50 hp],” Schmitz says. “We’re not just taking electric motors and putting them into existing tractors. We’ve designed this from the ground up.”

Schmitz says four tractors are already working in U.S. fields, with 15 more scheduled for limited production later this year.

Updates for older tractors

Autonomy isn’t exclusive to new tractors. Alon Ascher, chief business officer for Bluewhite, says the brand has retrofitted many autonomous tractors in California and Washington. The company has offices in Fresno, Calif., and Tel Aviv, Israel.

“We retrofit existing tractors and convert them to robots. It could be a Kubota, John Deere or New Holland,” he says. “It’s about driving at a specific speed. It’s about executing a task. If the tractor has more electronic controls, we use them. But it’s mainly mechanical.”

Bluewhite’s autonomous kit includes lidar sensors and cameras that control mechanical parts inside the cab to drive the machine.

Beyond autonomous electric tractors, other new products will enter the marketplace this spring. An AI-enabled platform from Ceres Imaging aims to simplify ag land management. Portfolio Insights will let “ag land investors, lenders, growers and crop insurers” visualize and manage their entire portfolio of farmland data in one place, according to a company release.

The platform is being pitched as a “one-stop solution that helps agribusiness stakeholders to acquire, manage and insure all of their farmlands from one place.” Users can compare current field performance to similar land plots and historical performance. They can also identify, delineate and quantify vegetated and non-vegetated areas of the field and better understand growth stages.

New wheel loaders

New Holland is expanding its C Series compact wheel loader lineup with three new models: W60C, W70C and W80C LR. The loaders feature enhanced telematics and automated boom control, a more comfortable cab design, and higher horsepower. The machines offer:

  • cruise control

  • “creep functionality” for low-speed operations that require high horsepower like snow blowing

  • various drive modes for operator comfort

“The development of these advanced CWL models was driven by our goal to enhance the operator and owner experience, and the need to put more options with more versatility in their hands,” says Dan Kakareka, product manager for New Holland Construction, North America. “What’s also evident with the three new models is how they provide exceptional stability, enabling operators to handle larger loads with ease, maneuver confidently in challenging conditions and enjoy smoother travel, even on rough terrain.”

About the Author(s)

Andy Castillo

Andy Castillo started his career in journalism about a decade ago as a television news cameraperson and producer before transitioning to a regional newspaper covering western Massachusetts, where he wrote about local farming.

Between military deployments with the Air Force and the news, he earned an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Bay Path University, building on the English degree he earned from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He's a multifaceted journalist with a diverse skill set, having previously worked as an EMT and firefighter, a nightclub photographer, caricaturist, features editor at the Greenfield Recorder and a writer for GoNomad Travel. 

Castillo splits his time between the open road and western Massachusetts with his wife, Brianna, a travel nurse who specializes in pediatric oncology, and their rescue pup, Rio. When not attending farm shows, Castillo enjoys playing music, snowboarding, writing, cooking and restoring their 1920 craftsman bungalow.

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