Drive Toward Precision

Operators are demanding more — especially more precision — from their automated steering systems, and manufacturers continue to deliver advancements.

“In addition to saving time, input expenses, and operator fatigue, accurate and reliable automated steering allows several exciting developments that are happening right now in precision agriculture,” says Wayne Wenzel, public relations manager for Trimble‘s Agriculture Division. These include a variety of control functions, ranging from implement steering to field mapping, row shut-off, and variable-rate control of crop inputs.

Wenzel says Trimble offers the choice of its highly accurate AgGPS Autopilot system that hooks into the hydraulic steering system or an easy-to-install EZ-Steer system that steers via a bolt-on controller on the steering column.

Changes In Attitude

John Bressler, AutoFarm‘s senior marketing manager, also sees real change in operator attitudes. “GPS is no longer a ‘nice to have’ feature, it’s becoming a ‘must have,'” he says. “Demands are for more features and more integrated systems — systems that can do more from a single display and can be used throughout the entire season.”

Just launched this past winter, AutoFarm’s ParaDyme system can be combined with Ag Leader and Raven products (branded as AutoFarm per agreements with the manufacturers) — along with its proprietary wheel-mounted OnTrac2 GPS Assisted Steering — to provide a seamless, fully integrated steering and precision ag system. Features include remote real-time service and GPS steering ranging from WAAS (wide area augmentation system) to RTK (real-time kinematic) and in the near future, GLONASS (Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System). The company reports that the ParaDyme system now supports more than 400 different ag vehicles across manufacturers’ “color” line.

Choosing a system goes beyond brand. Depending on features, convenience, and price points, either assisted steering systems or hydraulic automated steering systems could be an operation’s best fit.

A third option also is available: electric steering. Topcon offers its AES-25 Electric Steering System, which provides the convenience of electric steering with the performance of hydraulic systems, says Kevin Cobb, director of product management. It is fully compatible with System 150 and System 250. Topcon offers systems starting with simple lightbar guidance, stepping up to autosteering, then higher accuracy autosteering and complete application control.

Earlier this spring, Leica Geo­sys­tems launched two new products to address different market segments — the mojoMINI offering lightbar guidance and the mojo3D with lightbar guidance and coverage mapping. The mojo3D can be configured as a manual steer lightbar or an autosteer solution. Along with its mojoRTK and mojoGLIDE autosteer systems, all of Leica’s products are designed to be scalable, reports Harlan Little, the company’s NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) business manager.

Grower Guidance Gains

“We have seen producers become familiar and comfortable with automatic guidance on their tractor, but they now realize where they ultimately need the accuracy is on the implement,” says Laura Robson, senior marketing representative, John Deere. In response, the company is launching iSteer for active implement guidance and iGuide for passive implement guidance. It also continues to offer its iTEC Pro, which automates tractor end-of-row functions as well automatically turns the tractor around on the end row.

Hemisphere GPS recently launched new tractor installation kits and reverse steering for its Outback eDriveX autosteering system. When combined with Outback S3 and either Outback BaseLineX or Outback A220/A221 for reliable, centimeter-level GPS accuracy, eDriveX offers a complete automated steering solution for high precision applications on a number of manufacturer’s vehicles, says Jeff Farrar, director of marketing, agriculture.

Many systems are designed for portability across the fleet, an important feature for both retailers and their grower-customers.

Switch kits allow easy transfer of AutoFarm’s systems across brands, says Joe Robertson, manager of communications. The Lock ‘n Roll mechanism of its OnTrac2 Assisted Steering clamps onto a vehicle’s steering wheel, and can be easily moved onto other machines. The ParaDyme roof module slides right off the roof rack, the controller is disconnected, and the pair are ready to transfer.

Jeff Bentley, Ag Leader’s GPS, guidance, and steering sales manager, adds that the ParaDyme system paired with Ag Leader’s Integra or Edge display can be moved in minutes, especially for vehicles with a steering kit already installed.

The fixed roof antennas required by Leica’s mojoRTK and mojoGLIDE can be moved, although it takes a little time, says Leica’s Little. The company offers an optional switch kit that contains all the necessary components for seamless transferability, along with the original portable RTK base station. The mojoMINI can be easily moved between field and on-road vehicles.

Portable Parts

Raven Industries’ SmarTrax has portable parts, while SmartSteer has a mechanical drive option that attaches to the steering wheel and is moved simply between machines. “The nice thing about SmartSteer is the fact that you don’t have to remove the steering wheel to install or move it,” says Ryan Molitor, marketing manager, Applied Technology Division. The company’s new Slingshot allows operators to access RTK and other high accuracy correction signals, whether using Raven or non-Raven hardware.

While the hydraulic valve of TeeJet‘s FieldPilot is not portable, a second hydraulic and cable kit can be purchased and installed in another machine. “This allows the operator to simply move the console and steering control module — the two expensive parts of the system — from one machine to another for quick portability,” says Rich Gould, vice president and guidance business manager.

All of Topcon’s systems are portable and easy to transfer between machines, including the AES-25, Cobb says. It’s more practical to leave wiring harnesses and control units in place, especially on higher end systems, so duplicate harnesses are typically installed on other machines where the controllers will be moved.

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