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Self-Driving Farm Tractor Rolls Into Service at California Vineyard

LIVERMORE (KPIX) -- An Alameda County winery has become the first customer to try out a major new improvement in high-tech farm equipment: the world's first autonomous electric tractor.

Monarch Tractor is out to prove that self-driving, battery powered vehicles aren't just for the highway.

The developer says the company's medium size tractor is one of only two in the world. It has twice the torque of similar tractors, runs quieter with no diesel engine, and is cheaper to run without fuel or engine maintenance costs.

However, Monarch co-founder Mark Schwager told KPIX 5 the vehicle's real secret sauce is that it is a "smart," learning tractor

"Works like a tractor. You can use it like a tractor. Works with all your existing implements and your existing drivers. If you want to use them and you should use them to train the tractor properly on the way you want your farm to work," said Schwager.

He says that after use, the tractor remembers exactly where you want it to go and exactly what you want it to do. After that, the driver can step down. It maintains situational awareness with an array of sensors, so it knows the difference between an object and people.

Stand in front of the Monarch Tractor and it reads your hand signals to turn left or turn right. It will follow you around like a dog, stop and shut down.

Of course, there's also an app for your phone allowing the user to send the same commands from a distance.

Workers at Wente Vineyards in Livermore are excited about the new technology. The winery's viticulturist Brad Kurtz says Wente is Monarch's first customer.

"We've been looking at machinery like this for a long time now," said Kurtz. "They can run without you even being there. They run remotely, so they're a lot safer. They're a lot more efficient, cheaper. So I think it's a no brainer for any winery operation."

The price tag for this smart tractor that learns and follows you around is about $50,000. Monarch said it plans to start production and retail sales next year.

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