One of the largest companies producing farm equipment worldwide, Mahindra Group, joins the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in May to become its largest internationally headquartered tenant, said Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.
The new center seeks to create breakthrough products for North American markets. At the same time, the company’s Virginia Tech research project in mechanical engineering aims to advance emerging farm technologies, like fruit-picking robots.
Rajesh Jejurikar, president of Mahindra & Mahindra’s Farm Equipment Sector, said, “Mahindra Group strives to be at the forefront of technology and innovation with a view to improve lives of our customers. We believe that leveraging the ecosystem of a leading academic institution such as Virginia Tech will foster innovation and enable us to stay ahead globally.”
The Virginia site was selected for its reputation in supporting research endeavors, according to the company. Mahindra North America is headquartered in Houston, Texas, which also was considered. Aravind S. Bharadwaj, chief technology officer for Mahindra’s farm equipment sector in Chennai, India, said, “The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center offers the perfect setting for both research and testing. The commonwealth’s rural communities married with Virginia Tech’s research expertise were the winning factors in narrowing down to Virginia Tech.”
An outline of the research can be seen in this two-minute YouTube video:
The center, called MaTC@Virginia (Mahindra AgTech Center at Virginia) complements work being done at Mahindra Research Valley in India and the company’s other product development centers in Japan and Finland.
“This is a longstanding courtship between one of the great emerging companies of the 21st century and an American land-grant university of global reach and distinction,” Ghosh said. “Negotiations started in earnest in 2015 and culminated in an enterprise that brings together research, practical application, and commercialization.”
The enterprise is set to open in a space that has been custom-configured for the company, said Joe Meredith, president and CEO of the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC). Mahindra’s U.S. presence will support research into new-generation farm equipment, including the latest in technology that envisions fruit-picking robots and tractors that communicate with GPS systems and repair shops, according to Bharadwaj.
Tomonari Furukawa, professor of mechanical engineering in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, is creating a robotic arm on wheels that can move through a vineyard.
Roop Mahajan, the Lewis A. Hester Chair in Engineering in mechanical engineering and former director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech, is co-PI with Furukawa on the mechanical engineering research project. He called Mahindra “a strategic partner in research, education, and outreach with the potential for transformational impact beyond our neighborhood borders to the world at large.”
Mahindra’s presence in the VTCRC is only a part of its association with Virginia Tech, Bharadwaj said. In India, Virginia Tech’s Chennai-headquartered campus – called Virginia Tech, India – is close to Mahindra World City, an economic zone and industrial development covering 1,550 acres. This has made the university-industry collaboration convenient for Mahindra engineers who hope to “democratize technology” and bring technological innovations within affordable reach of small farmers and hobbyists, he said.
Mahajan said the Blacksburg-based research project involves Virginia Tech researchers from several disciplines working on problems including pesticide removal. “We have materials science folks, we have mechanical engineers, modeling experts, and chemists working on this project,” he said. “So it is a wonderful project for Virginia Tech – for our engineers and scientists to do, because it has a huge societal impact.”
Meredith said, “I think it establishes credibility for the park when a company that could be anywhere in the world chooses to be here.”
With Mahindra poised to set up shop at the VTCRC, growth at the park is “fabulous,” Meredith said. “We could be building several new buildings this year, if everything comes into line.” The VTCRC hosts 184 research centers and companies with more than 3,000 employees in 33 buildings covering 230 acres.
The Mahindra Group is a $19 billion federation of companies that enables people to rise through innovative mobility solutions, driving rural prosperity, enhancing urban living, nurturing new businesses, and fostering communities. It has a leadership position in utility vehicles, information technology, financial services, and vacation ownership in India and is the world’s largest tractor company, by volume. It also enjoys a strong presence in agribusiness, components, commercial vehicles, consulting services, energy, industrial equipment, logistics, real estate, steel, aerospace, defense and two wheelers. Headquartered in India, Mahindra employs over 200,000 people across 100 countries.