Driverless Electric Robot Tractors are Here, Powered by NVIDIA AI Chips – Slashdot
NVIDIA is proud of its role in the first commercially available smart tractor (which began rolling off the production line Thursday). Monarch Tractor’s MK-V “combines electrification, automation, and data analysis to help farmers reduce their carbon footprint, improve field safety, streamline farming operations, and increase their bottom lines,” according to NVIDIA’s blog.
NVIDIA’s been touting the ability to accelerate machine learning applications with its low-power Jetson boards (each with a system on a chip integrating an ARM-architecture CPU) , and they write that the new tractor “cuts energy costs and diesel emissions, while also helping reduce harmful herbicides, which are expensive and deplete the soil.”
Mark Schwager, former Tesla Gigafactory chief, is president; Zachary Omohundro, a robotics Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon, is CTO; Praveen Penmetsa, CEO of Monarch Tractor, is an autonomy and mobility engineer. Penmetsa likens the revolutionary new tractor to paradigm shifts in PCs and smartphones, enablers of world-changing applications. Monarch’s role, he said, is as the hub to enable smart implements — precision sprayers, harvesters and more — for computer vision applications to help automate farming….
Tapping into six NVIDIA Jetson Xavier NX SOMs (system on modules), Monarch’s Founder Series MK-V tractors are essentially roving robots packing supercomputing. Monarch has harnessed Jetson to deliver tractors that can safely traverse rows within agriculture fields using only cameras. “This is important in certain agriculture environments because there may be no GPS signal,” said Penmetsa. “It’s also crucial for safety as the Monarch is intended for totally driverless operation.”The Founder Series MK-V runs two 3D cameras and six standard cameras.
In one pilot test a tractor lowered energy costs (compared to a diesel tractor) by $2,600 a year, according to NVIDIA’s blog post. And the tractor collects and analyzes crop data daily, so hopes are high for the system. Monarch has already raised more than $110 million in funding, reports the Verge:
Many tractors out in farming fields have semiautonomous modes but largely require a driver to be seated. They also mostly run on diesel gas, so the MK-V, with its fully electric design and driver-optional smarts, is claiming it’s the first production model of its kind.