Raven Takes Aim

New technologies have been streaming out from precision manufacturers at a breakneck pace for the past decade, a phenomenon that’s accelerated even further in recent years. In less than 10 years, automatic steering went from new invention to 50% adoption among retail dealerships, and use of high-accuracy GPS systems via RTK tower networks and CORS networks seems positioned for even more rapid market saturation.

One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers today is figuring out the best way to harness these and the many new technologies and upgrades being released for optimum utilization in agriculture. One such solution to emerge this winter is Slingshot from Raven Industries. Slingshot not only ties together key technologies of value to both growers and service providers, but provides dealerships and precision agriculture specialists with ways to improve service — and service efficiency.

“This is not just a product, this is a whole solution — a service and support infrastructure that we hope will substantially raise the bar of product service in the field that’s never been seen before,” says Paul Welbig, director of marketing for Raven.

Convergence Of Technology

It was possible to imagine a time when wireless capability would be an important built-in attribute for its Viper in-cab computer console, but it wasn’t until recently that all the components and infrastructure finally came together. Last summer, Raven acquired a Canadian company called Ranchview, which had done extensive work on developing cellular technology to work in rural areas. Ranchview’s technology and expertise, blended with Raven’s understanding of machinery control and logistics in agriculture, provided the groundwork for the Slingshot brand.

Slingshot actually acts as a separate business unit for Raven, featuring its own separately trained dealer network. It originates with the dealer, who has committed to implementing the program in a given area, to carrying the products necessary, and providing service to grower-customers.

“We have dealers signing up to be certified Slingshot dealers, making a commitment and sending personnel in for training,” explains Welbig. “We had our first ‘Slingshot University’ a few weeks ago, when we brought in technical folks to educate them on the inner workings of Slingshot and how to provide top notch service.”

Fully implemented, the Slingshot system starts with a certified dealer that has installed a base station, or has access to a CORS network. The Slingshot dealer offers users a radio modem and subscription that allows the user to receive RTK-level GPS corrections and high-speed wireless Internet via major cell phone towers typically within a 30-mile radius from the base station.

In addition to accessing the RTK signal and wireless Internet, the Slingshot system gives dealers the ability to directly connect to any Slingshot enabled modem anywhere in their service area through the Internet. Dealers can emulate the Viper Pro or Envizio Pro screen and see exactly what the grower sees on his screen, perform remote diagnostics, and even fix problems without having to drive out to the field.

Finally, wireless connectivity provides the convenience of file and data transfer, virtually eliminating the uncertainty and inefficiency of data storage disks. This capability will allow users to take full advantage of the AgX software platform, the standardized reference database from SST that Raven’s Slingshot, Viper Pro, and Envizio Pro will be compliant with in 2010. Running on the AgX platform will ensure data integrity, notes Welbig.

“Interest has been very strong,” says Welbig, “but this implementation of Slingshot nationwide will be a slow burn. We have been working really close with the dealers, getting them up to speed, and they are making a commitment on base stations, networks, and resources on their end. We have released the product and have been producing base stations for several weeks, and some are already deployed in various areas of the country.”

Raven has focused on its “wheelhouse” sales area from western Canada through Indiana. In particular, grower-customers in CORS-ready areas such as Iowa are getting hooked up. Raven has also released new Viper Pro and Envizio Pro software, which provides the necessary horsepower to connect to network and online services.

“There has been a lot of enthusiasm in the channel,” notes Welbig. “We’re investing a lot in getting dealers up to speed, and now we want to get customers calling dealers or calling us to find the dealer that can service them.”

Beyond Raven-manufactured devices, the company is working on making Slingshot compatible with other companies’ devices. “With some simple harness changes and cabling, most new generation hardware can accept external corrected messages from an external source,” says Welbig. “Typically, it’s a radio, 900 megahertz or 1.4 gigahertz that delivers the signal, and we are simply replacing it with our modem and delivering that same type of information to the receiver via serial port.”

Raven has developed an informational Website with more information about the system that interested dealers can access at www.ravenSlingshot.com.

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