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California-based automated tractor firm teams with tech companies in U.S. and abroad.

Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

August 12, 2022

4 Min Read
An autonomous, electric-powered Monarch Tractor sprays water on wine grape vines during a demonstration at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, Calif.Tim Hearden

The momentum keeps growing for California-based Monarch Tractor, as the 2-year-old automated tractor company recently announce it was teaming with firms in Ohio and India to expand its market.

Monarch is establishing a foothold in India with what it calls a major technology agreement with AI and machine vision analytics startup Einsite, with the two companies working together to develop autonomy models and algorithms.

Fresh off that announcement, Monarch in August inked a deal with Foxconn to build next-generation agricultural equipment and battery packs at its Ohio plant.

Monarch founder and chief executive officer Praveen Penmetsa, who is from India, says that Einsite’s expertise makes it a natural fit to help his company establish a presence and new offices in the Asian nation.

“Einsite was doing a lot of computer vision AI work … so there were a lot of parallels with what we’re doing in agriculture, using camera equipment to improve efficiencies for farmers,” Penmetsa told Farm Progress.

“That was the touch point,” he said. “They were doing something similar … Now we’re excited to be working with them. Their team is working on Monarch projects. It gives our team a lot more bandwidth and resources so we can start to scale our AI products.”

Rollout near

The expansion push comes as Monarch is preparing the full-scale commercial rollout of what it bills as the world’s first electric, driver-optional, smart tractor. The company is beginning large-scale production in the fourth quarter of 2022 and expects to sell as many as 2,000 tractors by the end of next year, Penmetsa said.

The Livermore, Calif.,-based Monarch is coming off a banner year in which it scored $61 million in funding from a group of investors led by Astanor Ventures, one of the world’s leading sustainable food venture firms.

Launched in 2020, Monarch bills itself as the first to offer a “trifecta” of electrification, automation and data analysis that empowers sustainable farming, increases efficiency and safety, and maximizes power profitably. The machine’s enhanced data capture could help a grower improve practices and enhance yields, the company asserts.

Related: Upstart startup: Big investments propel Monarch

The tractor features spare batteries that can be swapped in and out during the day to keep the machine running and can be charged at night when electricity demand is lighter. The mahines’ autonomous features enable trained workers to operate several at a time, which will enable the machine to “pay for itself” in less than two years, Penmetsa has said.

To help some growers afford the tractor’s $58,000 price tag and field-test the machines over the past 18 months, Monarch obtained grants from the USDA, the California Air Resources Board and other agencies.

The firm was recognized at CES in Las Vegas in January, receiving a 2022 Innovator Award in the Robotics category for its flagship MK-V tractor.

Monarch on target

At the World Ag Expo in February, Monarch teamed with OnTarget, which uses static electricity to provide super-precise sprays, to show growers how much they can accomplish with a tiny carbon footprint.

“We just saw an opportunity to partner because we are low-horsepower and Monarch does not require high horsepower,” OnTarget spokeswoman Ellen Kamp said during the farm show.

Related: Monarch, OnTarget create electric partnership

Monarch has found another beneficial partner in Einsite, which uses machine-mounted cameras and sensors to capture site activity, and in-cab edge computers to derive insights that managers use to make better decisions, according to a release.

The company has deployed its tech on several construction and mining projects worth over $2 billion across India and the U.S., and is backed by Silicon Valley investors such as Quiet Capital, Resolute Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins, the release states.

“Apart from my background, the exciting part is that (India) is one of the largest markets for transport and agricultural equipment,” Penmetsa said. “It helps us while we’re talking to a lot of Indian companies right now. Now we have an Indian presence.

“I think all the major equipment companies are there, and they’re expanding their footprint there,” he said.

With Foxconn, Monarch has found a manufacturer “with the experience to quickly scale and execute with precision,” Penmetsa said. Foxconn completed purchase of the Ohio plant in March, and the agreement with Monarch is its first since acquiring the facility.

“I think the fact that we are able to expand our footprint globally and are now on the cusp of our release of tractors to farmers and the fact that our AI team is expanding, are all things that farmers should feel comfortable about,” Penmetsa said. “All three are positive.”

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