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Kubota eyes 2026 for Japan’s first remote-monitored robo-tractors

Written by Nikkei Asia Published on   2 mins read

Machines are using Nvidia chips and GPS to navigate country’s small farms.

Japanese machinery maker Kubota is planning to commercialize the country’s first unmanned tractors and other farming equipment capable of remote monitoring as early as 2026, Nikkei has learned.

The company is collaborating with US-based Nvidia on graphics processing units for AI-equipped cameras. The machines will also have global positioning technology.

The move comes as Japan experiences a decline in farmers. Part of Kubota’s goal is to draw younger workers to the industry by reducing workloads.

The company plans to commercialize tractors, rice planters and combine harvesters that use cameras and artificial intelligence to operate and watch for people and obstacles. Multiple machines can be remotely monitored at the same time.

The machines will be capable of level 3 automatic operations as stipulated by Japan’s farm ministry, meaning they can be monitored from off-site locations, a first in Japan.

The ministry is expected to form guidelines specifically for level 3 farm machines before Kubota’s models enter commercialization.

Level 2 unmanned farming machinery, which has already been commercialized in Japan, uses lasers and ultrasonic waves to detect obstacles and requires a nearby operator to visually monitor them.

US farming and construction machinery company John Deere has commercialized Level 3 unmanned tractors, but the large machines, built for expansive US farmland, are ill-suited to Japan’s small farms.

Kubota’s machines are capable of maneuvering even in narrow farmland and can improve work accuracy. If commercialization in Japan is successful, the company hopes to export the machines to other countries in Asia, where farmland is similarly limited.

The unmanned machines are likely to sell for 20% to 30% more than other models. Kubota President Yuichi Kitao says the company aims to simplify the technology moving forward, enabling price reductions.

Japanese farming households numbered 1.74 million in 2020, a 44% decline over the past 20 years, according to the agriculture ministry. Those who can pass on know-how are also aging.

Making farm work easier and more efficient will not only help the older farmers but may shore up the labor crunch by attracting younger people to the field.

This article first appeared on Nikkei Asia. It has been republished here as part of 36Kr’s ongoing partnership with Nikkei.


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