“We used to think we had a demographic for the end-user of our product,” says Jeff Farrar, North America sales manager for Outback Guidance. “That demographic has blown up this last year.” Indeed, growers and dealers continue to enter the GPS guidance world at all levels.
Marlin Melander, marketing manager, Raven Flow Controls, says “manufacturers are starting to tailor their product more towards the demands of the customers.”
“There’s still a real strong demand for simple guidance and guidance only,” says Melander. “Envizio Plus fits that, with its ‘last-pass’ guidance program. We’re also looking at a market that is maturing, and steering is the next step up from guidance.”
Says Rhett Schildroth, ag product marketing manager with Topcon Positioning Systems: “These entry level kits are good for allowing people to affordably get guidance on one of their vehicles and experience the ‘wow’ for themselves in their own cab.”
Farrar agrees. “I think manufacturers are improving this technology in part by offering starting-point, scaled-down, cleaner, more affordable packages.” Hemisphere GPS continues to offer its flagship product, the Outback S2 lightbar, plus the Outback 360 system. Trimble and business partners Ag Leader, Case IH, Hardi, and New Holland debuted their EZ-Guide 500 GPS lightbar, moving the EZ-Guide Plus to a lower price point ($1,995) for new adopters.
Simple To Add On
The secret to simpler systems is offering something that can be upgraded, believes Farrar.
Raven transformed its Envizio just six months after its introduction in 2006. Melander says users were asking for AutoBoom (automatic boom section control), AccuBoom (boom height level control), and data logging on the console — so Raven added the capabilities, dubbing the newcomer Envizio Plus.
Trimble’s EZ-Guide Plus lightbar has already been updated with EZ-Boom capabilities, and the EZ-Guide 500 will have the option later this spring. Sid Siefken, sales channel manager at Trimble, believes one of the biggest challenges facing retailers today is understanding the upgrade options available with the Trimble product line-up — keeping in mind what they’ll want to be doing in the next three months, or the next three years. The EZ-Guide 500 has the capability to use WAAS, OmniSTAR XP/HP, or RTK corrections for flexible accuracy options. And, with many systems, dealers need to consider if they’ll want to add auto steering or boom control capabilities.
Topcon’s upgraded X20 system now includes controls for these options, and for 2007 has added a weather station that integrates with the console, displaying and documenting real-time weather information. Also available is a camera system that allows better visibility around the machine, says Schildroth. Operators can install up to four cameras.
AGCO Global Technology’s new Console I — available on select equipment this year — utilizes cameras for guidance. The display, mounted in the cab, is also able to control all guidance functions, including autosteer, implement steering, and application of inputs.
Retailers are also calling for guidance systems with upgradeability in GPS signals. Units can now operate using WAAS, OmniStar, or RTK — or, in the case of Hemisphere GPS, its new BaseLine HD portable transmitter.
Making It Comfortable
Options and upgrades are great, but drivers are also saying they want comfort and easy operation. Designers of the new EZ-Guide 500 increased the size of the display, added color, and increased the size of the text. “The large font size allows operators to comfortably read — and actually learn how to use it — as they sit in the driver’s seat,” says Siefken. The display complements the 31-LED lightbar situated above. “Simply looking at a computer screen for guidance can be difficult. With the lightbar, drivers don’t have to focus exclusively on the display.” Dave King, marketing manager with Ag Leader explains that the display — highly visible even in bright light — provides users with an “overhead” or “perspective” view of the operation, while the map view provides a real-time coverage map.
The GreenStar 2 (GS2) guidance system from John Deere features a 10.4-inch color, touchscreeen display with an on-screen path accuracy indicator that looks and functions much like a lightbar, says Emily Harringa, communications specialist with John Deere Ag Management Solutions. “It’s one less piece of hardware to clutter up the cab.”
AutoFarm LTi also has a friendly display, giving users a “virtual moving highway,” says Deane Malott, director of marketing for AutoFarm. Then, he says, the LTi is taken to the next level in the company’s Ag Technology Center (ATC). The ATC features 3-D color graphics — which are especially helpful in anticipating curves and headlands — and mapping, while leaving room for future capabilities.
Making It Easy-To-Use
Raven’s Melander says that Envizio users have told him that the company didn’t even need to write a manual for the product — the touchscreen handily guided them through set-up and use. “To have that type of product is very critical in the marketplace. Otherwise, you end up with frustration and service calls,” he says.
Manufacturers encourage retailers not to be overwhelmed by guidance choices available today. Different levels of guidance options can be a boon to retail managers who want to outfit their spray fleets but don’t want to — or need to — get the highest-end product available, says Siefken. “Their key machines may have lightbars or autopilots, but not all have a GPS lightbar system yet.” In either case, there are “strong economic cases to be made for investing capital in guidance with the increased efficiencies of all machines in the fleet,” he concludes.