Tech start-up Zimeno Inc, the company behind the electrically-powered Monarch tractor and its autonomous and data gathering capabilities, has attracted new partners and investors, including CNH Industrial, manufacturer of Case IH and New Holland agricultural equipment.
The California-based company’s expertise in the integration of autonomous control and electric drives is the principle motivation for CNH agreeing a strategic partnership and buying a minority stake in the business, which ultimately could see the technology being rolled out in CNH’s agricultural and construction vehicles.
Integrating full electric powertrains with autonomous capabilities
Asked by Future Farming why CNH needed to invest in out-sourcing such technology, the company responded: “CNH Industrial seeks to work with industry-leading players across all the segments in which it operates, specifically in niche market segments.
“FPT Industrial, the company’s global powertrain division, is the European leader in alternative fuelled powertrains, and has already developed a range of commercialised industrial electric powertrains. Monarch offers the added advantage of integrating full electric powertrains with autonomous capabilities.”
CNH is not revealing the size of its investment but the day after its announcement at the beginning of March, Indian tractor manufacturer VST Tillers Tractors Ltd said it has made a $ 150 million investment for a 2% shareholding in Zimeno, which follows a technical partnership agreement signed in February.
Zimeno and VST have worked collaboratively for over a year on the technical development of hardware for the first Monarch series, a compact-sized tractor that combines sophisticated electric powertrain control, automated guidance and data logging systems with traditional features, such as three-point linkage and pto so that existing implements can be used.
Antony Cherukara, CEO at VST Tillers Tractors, said: “Electric and driver-optional technology is the latest advancement in agriculture mechanisation and specifically tractor technology.
“We look forward to taking this advanced electric tractor technology tailored for introduction across various markets including India.”
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Zimeno’s Monarch battery-powered tractor is designed for conventional or autonomous operation.
Musashi Seimitsu Industry Co
CNH and VST have become industrial partners alongside Japanese driveline components manufacturer Musashi Seimitsu Industry Co, which invested in the Monarch project in 2019, formalised a technical development and supply alliance 12 months later, and contributed more funding in January to support various operations including product deployment, pilot programmes with users and setting up a small-scale production facility.
For CNH Industrial, Scott Wine, CEO, said: “Monarch is pioneering tractor technology that incorporates electrification, autonomous use, and data management. These are three of the key pillars supporting sustainability, productivity and profitability for CNH Industrial and for our farming customers.
“We will work with Monarch to develop and deploy their ground-breaking technology ecosystem, which we believe has applicability across our entire Off-Road business.”
The journey to the Monarch launch started when Motivo Engineering, an engineering design and prototyping business headed by Zimeno CEO Praveen Penmetsa, won a USAID grant to develop and test the company’s proposed HARVEST tractor for developing agricultural markets.
Described as a multi-purpose, shareable mobile power delivery system for agriculture, the machine features patented battery power electronics architecture, and cell phone connectivity for tracking, rental and remote updates.
“The successful completion of a year-long test program in India proved the technical viability, business feasibility and, most importantly, adoption in Indian farming communities,” said Mr Penmetsa.
Zimeno and its Monarch Tractor brand was created to exploit this technology in more advanced agricultural markets, initially working with California wine producers.
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The Monarch’s patented electronic control for the electric powertrain is based on technology first developed for a multi-function tractor funded by a USAID grant.
High torque electric powertrain
The Monarch 634 is said to punch above its size and weight because of its high torque electric powertrain and the way outputs of 40hp continuous and 70hp intermittent can be distributed electronically amongst the axles, pto and hydraulics as appropriate for different tasks.
Unlike dedicated autonomous vehicles, the Monarch has a conventional operator’s platform and controls so it can be driven between locations and worked like a normal tractor.
The battery-powered tractor’s safety frame canopy houses an array of vision and proximity sensors for autonomous operation, plus data-gathering devices such as wind speed and direction sensors.
It can operate fully autonomously with an app providing managers with remote access, and in a semi-auto worker support mode when its movements can be controlled using hand gestures.