NZ0 CEO, Mike Casey and Orchard Manager Euan White spent the weekend at the Monarch factory in California, USA after having had the privilege of being invited to view and experience one of their pilot tractor vehicles which we hope to have delivered to our orchard early 2023.
The experience has been eye opening, with the tractors functioning not only as promised, but above and beyond what we anticipated. This furthers builds our excitement in having a completely electric and driver optional tractor that will revolutionise horticulture and viticulture in New Zealand as we know it.
The team from Monarch showcased the electrical systems, battery and capability, before being taken to a trial site at Wente Vineyards. From here Mike & Euan were able to see the autonomous mode in action, and then have an opportunity to drive the tractor as well.
The team at NZ0 are pretty excited at the potential of these machines. We had expectations before we arrived, but after viewing and experiencing the tractor first hand, there is no reason why it cannot be used for 100% of the mowing, spraying, mulching and data analysis on our orchards and farms, in a fully automated fashion.
Furthermore, and more importantly from a OH&S perspective, the safety systems are seriously impressive, specifically for the autonomous mode of the tractors.
There are also several driving models. Some of these include:
- Manual control. The driver controls the speed and direction;
- Co-pilot. The tractor in ‘row-following’ mode. With the driver visually checking operation of implements etc;
- Shadow-mode. The operator walks in front of the tractor, controlling its movement with their path; or most excitingly:
- Autonomous mode. The operator sets the route, speed, and settings for the implements, and then allows the tractor to complete the route autonomously.
Some of the videos below showcase the ability for the tractor to operate autonomously, including hazard identification (with a member of the team standing in front of the tractor to showcase the first warning with horn beeps, before the tractor then completely stops), as well as turning at the ends of each row, and adjusting speed accordingly for each of these movements.
Manual control example of Monarch Tractor.
Co Pilot example of Monarch Tractor.
Shadow mode example of Monarch Tractor.
Autonomous mode example of Monarch Tractor.
From a technical perspective, the battery on the tractor is such that it will comfortably haul the 1-2 tonnes required for a foliage sprayer or produce trailer during harvest or any other implements for a day of work. From an operational point of view, we are more than confident that this can run our implements all day with ease.
From an adaptability/compatible point of view, the PTO and hydraulic setup on the rear of the tractors is the same as a traditional tractor, so existing implements can be attached and used as normal.
Having said that, the PTO and hydraulics are likely to cause a high power draw, equalling less runtime. As a potential solution we’ll look to develop our own fully-electric foliar sprayer, which will be powered directly from the Monarch Tractor battery off the 230V output, integrating with the Monarch Autonomous controls.
The team at Monarch is excited to see this approach come to fruition, as it will be significantly cheaper, and environmentally considered then buying a second battery pack.
We expect the Monarch tractor to arrive at our pilot orchard, Forest Lodge, in early 2023. All made possible with funding support from EECA through their demonstration grant.
As we continue to get updates on the delivery timeline we’ll keep everyone posted, but we can’t wait to get NZ's first electric tractor in the near future and continue to bring everyone along on the journey!