India's Building an Autonomous Electric Tractor
India has become one of the latest nations to join the EV tech race with a Mumbai based startup called AutoNxt Automation working on what could be a breakthrough invention for agriculture in the country. Most farmers in India still use animals or labour to plough their fields because farmers don't really earn that much there and so most can't afford a tractor or machinery. However, the tractor from AutoNxt could be the solution to their problems. The company's tractor can spray pesticides, plough fields and even sow seeds, that's pretty impressive!
The tractor works using geographical coordinates and a predetermined route that the farmer can change. The tractor can run this route several times over the course of a day and will even give mobile alerts to the farmer in case it encounters and obstructions that take it more than five minutes to get past. The CEO of the company said that the main barriers to tractor ownership in India were the fact that skilled drivers are in short supply, the tractor needs to be used for at least 1000 hours per year to be feasible and tractors pose significant health risks to the driver's spine.
You may wonder, if normal tractors are out of budget for most farmers then what chance does an autonomous EV tractors have of being affordable? Well, here's the smart bit. The CEO plans to sell the tractors to the richer farmers initially and then use a government scheme to rent the tractors to the ones who cannot afford to purchase.
How does it work?
The tractor uses geographical coordinates as a set boundary for the farm and the farmer can set a planned route for the tractor to follow while on the farm. It still doesn't entirely eliminate the need for skilled tractor drivers as someone needs to drive this tractor from the storage area to the farm and back. The prototype currently takes between three to four hours for a full charge which lasts for around five hours depending on the intensity of use. The tractor doesn't use the standard Lithium-ion battery but instead uses a different set of chemicals, the formulation still remains a mystery though. The battery has a claimed life of 10 years.
Development of the prototype is still going on with the company having spent $2 million NZD so far but with new funds arriving from Mahindra electric, the electric division of the large Indian conglomerate. Things can only go up for AutoNxt. These fresh funds will be used to improve the tractor based on feedback, they will also be used to get the tractor road safe and commercially launched. Following the launch of the tractor, AutoNxt will then look towards revolutionizing airport shuttles and other vehicles that travel a set route every day. Earlier in the year, an Israeli company called Taranis was also working on a similar project while John Deere also announced that they were working on an autonomous EV tractor but their version would need an extension chord to help with navigating the farms.