Mahindra & Mahindra today revealed its first-ever driverless tractor, developed at the Mahindra Research Valley, the Group’s hub of innovation and technology in Chennai.
This makes the company, which already has a first-mover advantage in electric vehicles, a forerunner in autonomous driving technology in the country. The announcement of the development comes less than 24 hours after M&M revealed its strategic alliance with Ford Motor Co for collaboration in mobility, electrification and product development over a three-year period.
According to M&M, the driverless tractor, which can be programmed to carry out specific tasks and can also be operated remotely, is aimed at redefining the mechanisation process for the farmer through substantially increased farming productivity.
Key features of the driverless tractor
Autosteer: GPS-based technology that enables a tractor to travel along a straight line.
Auto-headland turn: Allows the tractor to orient itself along adjacent rows for continuous operation without any steering input from the farmer.
Auto-implement lift: Feature in the tractor that automatically lifts the work tool from the ground at the end of a row and lowers the tool after the tractor has oriented itself for operation at the next row.
Skip passing: This feature enables the tractor to steer to the next row for continuous operation without any intervention of the driver.
The safety features for the autonomous tractor include a geofence lock that prevents the tractor from going outside the boundaries of the farm; control via Tablet User Interface which enables the farmer to program various inputs needed to farm efficiently. This also helps prevent the tractor from veering off from its intended path or desired operation. And a remote engine start stop can bring the tractor to a complete halt if needed be.
Speaking at the technology reveal in Chennai, Dr Pawan Goenka, managing director, Mahindra & Mahindra, said, “Our tractor R&D has always been at the forefront of pioneering cutting-edge solutions. The driverless tractor opens up new possibilities in farming. We are happy to dedicate this innovative mechanisation for the global farming community, in line with our Farming 3.0 proposition. It is less about the cost of ownership and more about reducing the drudgery of farming.”
In what is a parallel to the trucking industry in India, Dr Goenka said there is a growing scarcity of tractor drivers in the country and as such, autonomous tractors will aid precision farming, increase productivity, improve quality and also facilitate coverage of large tracts of farming land.
According to M&M, the target price of the autonomous tractor is less than Rs 100,000 per unit and the company is working to reduce on reducing costs to meet that target. Getting costs right and regulatory approval are the two challenges. As of date, India does not have any regulation for driverless vehicles. M&M is in discussions with regulatory authorities and is hopeful that it will get the necessary approvals in time to launch the first tractor in Q4 of FY2018.
M&M expects autonomy to be a trend in the Indian tractor industry. "In the next 5-7 years, there will be disruptions in the farming sector for the better," said Dr Goenka, adding that this is the first step of M&M’s farming 3.0 program.
Rajesh Jejurikar, president, Farm Equipment Sector, Mahindra & Mahindra, said, “Today the need for farm mechanisation is higher than ever before, due to labour shortage and the need to improve productivity and farm produce yield. Coupled with our ‘DiGiSENSE’ technology that we launched last year, the driverless tractor offers a distinct advantage to the Indian farmer by bringing an unprecedented level of intelligence to the tractor”.
This technology will be deployed across all three Mahindra tractor platforms – Nuvo, Jivo and Yuvo – in due course of time. It will also be deployed across international markets such as USA and Japan, giving Mahindra tractors a distinct competitive edge in global markets with technological advancement being at the forefront. Mahindra plans to offer the driverless tractor technology across its range of tractors from 20hp to 100hp.
While M&M has done some basic work on electrifying tractors, it does not remain a focus area. Driverless tractors could one of many initiatives of M&M's goal of becoming a global tractor player. Right now, 30 percent of its Farm Equipment Services division comes from global sales; the target is to take it to 50 percent.