The autonomous tractor world is heating up, apparently. CNH Industrial has unveiled what it says is the "first" electric light tractor prototype with self-driving features, the New Holland T4 Electric Power. The machine promises zero emissions, quieter operation than diesel models and (according to CNH) lower running costs while reducing the amount of time farmers spend behind the wheel. Sensors and cameras on the roof help the vehicle complete tasks, dodge obstacles and work in harmony with other equipment. You can even activate it from your phone.
The T4 Electric Power's 120HP motor produces a 25MPH top speed comparable to regular tractors. The battery is large enough to handle a day's work "depending on the mission profile," CNH says. That suggests the tractor might need a mid-day top-up, but that might not necessarily be a problem when the T4 can reach a full battery in an hour using off-the-shelf fast chargers.
Like Ford's F-150 Lightning, this tractor can serve as a power pack on wheels. It has outlets to plug in common tools like drills, and it serves as a backup power source for emergencies. You can attach hydraulic, mechanical and Power Take Off implements. Production of the completed T4 Electric Power is expected at the end of 2023, with more models on the way.
There's also an environmentally conscious option for farmers who prefer the familiarity of fuel. An equally new T7 Methane Power LNG (shown at middle) is billed as the "world's first" liquid natural gas tractor. It can run on biomethane sourced from livestock manure — instead of letting methane slip directly into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change, farmers can put the chemical to work powering their equipment. The CO2 emissions reduction for a 120-cow farm is supposedly equivalent to that of 100 "western households" without sacrificing diesel-like performance. The T7 LNG doesn't have a launch date, and is only characterized as a "pre-production prototype."
Prices aren't available, and they may be important when farmers often have to work with tight budgets. However, CNH is betting that its technology will ultimately save money. The T4 Electric reportedly cuts operating costs by up to 90 percent thanks to the zero-fuel design and lower maintenance, and its hushed powerplant lets it work both at night and nearer to animals. The T7 LNG, meanwhile, lets farms make their own fuel, fertilizer and sellable excess electricity. Food growers could recoup at least some of their investment even as they reduce their impact on the planet.