Three of the largest Japanese farm machinery manufacturers are expected to “launch full-fledged sales of self-driving tractors, possibly in fiscal 2018, which starts April 1,” according to July 21, 2017 report in The Japan Times.

The news publication said, “The government plans to support the introduction of self-driving tractors amid growing hopes that such machines will help farmers cope with labor shortages at a time when many are aging and face difficulties finding successors.”

Last month, Kubota started selling the country’s first tractors with autonomous driving functions on a trial basis. As the machines still need to be monitored, Kubota assumes that farmers will operate two tractors at a time, one with a driver and the other unmanned.

Having two tractors operate simultaneously in this way on farmland with an area of 3,000-5,000 sq. meters would reduce the work time by around 30%, according to Satoshi Iida, a senior managing executive officer of Kubota.

Yanmar Co. and Iseki & Co. are also speeding up the development of self-driving tractors.

In March, the agriculture ministry drew up guidelines on safety standards for self-driving agricultural machinery. By 2020 it plans to establish a system that allows farmers to operate such machines only with remote monitoring or other means.

Based on this prospect, Kubota plans to release fully unmanned autonomous agricultural machinery.