Unmanned tractor undergoes public demonstration in Iwaki

20 April 2017

An unmanned tractor went on a demonstration run in Iwaki city, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 19 as part of a project to turn the Hamadori coastal region into an advanced area for the development of robotics and other cutting-edge technologies. The "robot tractor" experiment, shown to the public, was conducted in the city’s Nishiki-machi district under the Fukushima International Research Industrial City (Innovation Coast) Framework funded by the central government.

The tractor project is being undertaken by the “medium-size robot tractor development group” comprising the Fukushima Agricultural Technology Center, Iseki & Co. and Nanso Green Farm. The idea is to develop an unattended robot tractor for labor-saving agriculture, among other purposes.

In the demonstration run watched by about 30 people, including local farmers, the remote-controlled tractor cultivated a paddy field about 54 ares wide. The group is set to develop additional functions, including fertilizer application, soil puddling and soybean seed sowing. It is seeking to commercialize the robot tractor in fiscal 2018 beginning next April.

"We hope to save labor in agriculture amid a decline in the farming population," said Akihiro Machida of Advanced Technology Engineering Department at Iseki, a major agricultural machinery maker.

But the projected retail price of the tractor is expected to be about 1.5 times that of a conventional model. “It may be difficult for farmers to buy new agricultural machinery given sagging rice prices,” said Shinichi Akatsu , a 70-year-old farmer who was among the spectators.

(Translated by Kyodo News)