Colruyt experiments with self-driving tractor

Retail group Colruyt has launched an experiment with a self-driving tractor in Deinze (East Flanders). The vehicle will mow, spray, and transport fruit in an orchard. Self-driving tractors are already common in the US, but there is not yet a good legal framework in Europe. That’s why the experiment is organized on private property.

The Monarch MK-V, as the American vehicle is called, will drive around the Wolfcarius apple nursery in Gottem, near Deinze, for a week. One week later, it will be deployed to a Colruyt Group vineyard in Frasnes-lez-Anvaing, where it will mow the grass between the narrow corridors of the vines.

More sustainable

Self-driving tractors could be useful for activities where the tractor moves slowly, such as weeding and mowing lawns, especially for large plots. Colruyt already sees potential in the new technology, although it emphasized on Thursday that this is only a test. Colruyt wants to focus on sustainability, and electrification is part of that. The retail group also wants to know whether the results are better than those of human-controlled tractors.

The initiative for testing the self-driving tractor comes from Colruyt Group, which is looking for innovative solutions to tackle the workforce challenges in agriculture and make it more sustainable. Farmers with orchards usually rely on seasonal workers during the busiest periods. However, finding the right people for the time-consuming and repetitive tasks is becoming increasingly difficult.

Better for the environment

The electric tractor is better for the environment than its diesel variant with exhaust fumes. Another advantage is that the onboard computer can store enormous amounts of data from the sensors, which can be analyzed using artificial intelligence. In this way, the device should pay for itself for the farmer.

According to Colruyt Group, the Monarch Tractor is the world’s first 100 percent electric, driver-optional, smart tractor. The tractor’s battery, which charges in five hours, can last up to 14 hours. The company has already sold 400 copies in America.

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