Henry Ford’s Forson tractor revolutionised the farming industry in Ireland some 100 years ago. Roscommon man David Doran says his autonomous, AI powered tractor could do the same – offering an affordable and innovative solution for farms of all sizes.
The iTarra machine, derived from the Irish for tractor, tarracóir, is about half the size of a conventional tractor and is fitted with a Nvidia computing engine as well as cameras and sensors that allow it to complete tasks fully autonomously.
It can also be controlled in a range of other ways, including remotely and using a virtual reality headset. The technology can also be used to retrofit existing tractors.
The iTarra tractor operates on an open source platform that will allow farmers to develop and tailor individual applications that can be accessed or purchased by any iTarra customer, similar to an iPhone’s app store.
“We’re in a revolution of technology and equipment in the agricultural sector, and the smaller farms are starting to get left behind,” said Mr Doran, who adds that similar machines are being produced by other European companies for north of €400,000, to cater to large scale farms.
He plans to market the iTarra tractor for around €100,000, with retrofitting of existing tractors for under €10,000.
“[Our competitors] are dealing with massive farms that are able to take big investment. They haven’t the same mentality as we have in where we’re trying to create affordability,” he said.
Having grown up on his own family farm in Roscommon, with a passion for machinery that grew from getting his first welder when he was ten years old, this is not Doran’s first invention.
His Supercrop 1 machine, designed to reduce the time and costs involved in the wilting of silage and hay, took home the machine of the year award at the Irish Ploughing Championships in 2016, as well as a technology innovation award at the UK’s LAMMA agricultural show in 2017.
Mr Doran says it can be difficult to scale up production in Ireland.
“We get orders and inquiries from around the world, but we don’t have the support of a production element. We’ve had to partner and outsource production, collaborating with different businesses worldwide,” he said.
“We feel like, being in Ireland, we are at a disadvantage because we can’t get in a car and drive to these businesses within a couple of hours like our competitors in other European countries. That has held us back in production,” he said.
However, Mr Doran is rolling out plans to bring the iTarra tractor to market. He says he will shortly launch an online portal for potential customers to trial remotely accessing and operating the machine.
“We’re hoping that, next year, we’re going to get some production up and running,” he said, adding that there has been “a lot of excitement” from investors and potential customers in the farming sector and beyond.
“We’ve had a lot of different discussions and it’s not just the agricultural sector. We’re in talks to a lot of big construction firms worldwide, even the military. When the technology has so many different applications, it opens up an awful lot of different opportunities,” he said.