Automated, Electric Monarch Tractor Ready for 2021 Deliveries

Startup’s compact battery-electric tractor claimed to be world’s first integration of full-electrification and “driver optional” into single platform.

Fully electric and “driver optional," the Monarch Tractor is aimed at the market's popular compact segment. (Monarch Tractor)

“If you want to fundamentally improve your economics,” said Monarch Tractor co-founder and CTO Zachary Omohundro to farmers and growers everywhere, “you go electric.” During a webcast with SAE International’s Southern California Section featuring his startup company’s battery-electric compact tractor, Omohundro offered markedly reduced operational costs as only one of many reasons for using the Monarch tractor, for which he said deliveries will start this fall for the “several hundred working farms” that have reserved the tractor that starts at $50,000.

The startup, spun off in 2019 from California-based “innovation engineering” firm Motivo Engineering, said its compact tractor – the highest-volume segment of the market – can save operators as much as $45 per day in running costs, while also simplifying typical tractor tasks and potentially freeing labor for other purposes. Moreover, at 40 hp (30 kW) nominal continuous power, the developers claim the Monarch will be the most powerful machine in the class. Its powertrain can generate up to 70 hp (55 kW) peak power.

Meanwhile, the Monarch tractor is designed to operate conventionally with a driver, to assist the driver or to complete pre-programmed tasks in completely driverless mode. In a release, Monarch explained that the tractor “utilizes the latest autonomous hardware and software technology to provide driver-assist and driver-optional operations.” In the webcast overview, Monarch said standard GPS sensing can provide geo-location with roughly 2-cm (0.80-in.) accuracy to enable precision driverless operation and, along with its other sensors, help assure safety in its area of operation.

Automated help

During the SAE SoCal webcast, Omohundro explained the Monarch tractor can perform many tasks without a driver, but said its automation capabilities do not yet run to completing operations – row plowing, for example – without prior pre-programming. The large canopy roof contains all of the machine’s sensors and receiving equipment, as well as data storage for roughly two days’ worth of crop data at roughly 260 GB daily. And although the tractor is envisioned to accommodate radar and lidar sensing, its sensors currently consist of 360-degree camera vision and GPS, as well as a weather station also incorporated into the roof.

Monarch’s creators see considerable utility in the tractor’s interactive automated functions. Gesture and Shadow modes follow a worker’s actions or visual instruction, while copycat mode and mission planning can driverlessly execute previously “seen” operations. Omohundro said the tractor is more than capable of leaving a barn or other place of storage and returning to that location without a driver. He added that although the Monarch’s fully electric operation is the prime feature, the company does not intend to sell the tractor without its automation and sensing hardware.

The sensors “provide critical data points that can be used for real-time implement adjustments as well as long-term yield estimates, current growth stages and other plant/crop health metrics,” Monarch said. Additionally, the company claims that onboard machine learning offers long-term analysis of field health and improves accuracy the longer it runs.

Advantage: electric

Although Monarch’s developers would not reveal specifics about the tractor’s battery capacity, they said it is capable of powering the tractor for up to six hours at high load and as long as 8-10 hours for nominal operations. Recharging at 220V is completed in 4-5 hours. The 3-point hitch and rear power takeoff (540 rpm) were designed to accept all the implements available for a conventional tractor’s PTO as well as “the next generation of smart implements.” A novel idea is a camera dedicated to the PTO to assure proper connection and to safely cut power if trouble is detected.

Engineers demonstrated another useful feature: an AC electric outlet near the cab enables work in the field with power tools and other electric devices without the need for a separate generator. And Omohundro said fully electric propulsion and PTO makes for a much-simplified cockpit and controls setup. Traction control and stability control are standard, and the battery is packaged where the engine typically resides. The tractor has a 2200-lb. (1000-kg) lift capacity; 4WD is optional.