GPS Gaining Power, Expanding Applications

While the ability to harness the field navigation power of GPS has been around for decades, these days equipment makers are hitting new levels of accuracy and reliability and are trying to reach new users. They’re also tapping into the exciting developments in varied countries’ satellite programs.

International satellite constellations continue to evolve and aid in positioning availability. The U.S. (GPS) and Russia (GLONASS) have started launching new generation type satellites. When it’s operational, Europe’s Galileo system will offer yet another array of positioning signals. Progress on the trouble-plagued system is disappointing, though the European Space Agency (ESA) reported it planned to launch more satellites soon with another deployment due at the end of the year. Initial services will be made available by the end of 2016. As the constellation is built up beyond that, new services will be tested and made available, with system completion scheduled for 2020. China has announced it will complete the BeiDou constellation by 2020 as well.

Multiple systems also provide “better positioning around obstacles that may block the sky, not to mention improved location when inside a crop canopy, orchard or forest,” says Greg Guyette, owner of Insero.

Bottom line is volume matters, he says. The more satellites and systems operating, the more accurate a receiver can be, in the U.S. and worldwide. Using GLONASS-capable receivers right now, in particular, offers a significant benefit — but users need to ask their suppliers to make sure products can access the signals.

“Just because a vendor mentions RTK, prospective buyers may want to verify that the receiver is ‘dual frequency RTK,’” adds Mike Gomes, vice president of business development, Topcon Positioning Systems. Why? Accuracy and repeatability between single and dual frequency RTK can be significant.

Products, Levels Of Play

To review a few basics, necessary satellite signal corrections are available to users through a few primary sources: free federally operated systems (such as WAAS); subscription services from precision vendors; and RTK networks. RTK networks utilize multiple base stations to communicate corrections. They’ve been built by major manufacturers — access is purchased on a yearly basis — or built by state governments with free access.

Back 40 - RTKonnect
RTK networks utilize multiple base stations to communicate corrections.

These sources provide a variety of accuracy levels, from 10 cm (about four inches) to 2 cm (about 0.8 inch). Two-centimeter accuracy potentially has a much greater customer base than 10 cm, says Guyette. “Improvements and cost reductions in satellite broadcasts of high-precision signals and greater availability of networked base station and Internet solutions that give 2 cm accuracy should continue to grow,” he says, adding that groups like MyWayRTK, for instance, have been effective in bringing high-precision offerings to a large volume of diverse ag customers within the U.S.

Precision companies continue to offer a variety of innovations. Most recent developments have been around either multiple satellite constellation positioning or the correction sources for those signals, says Topcon’s Gomes. His company, for instance, has introduced its Topcon Hiper V base station which utilizes the company’s Vanguard chipset with 224 Universal channels — and the ability to receive and utilize signals from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS and BeiDou satellite systems.

Topcon's System 350 with AGI-4 Receiver.
Topcon’s System 350 with AGI-4 Receiver.

Topcon optimizes GNSS positioning with the help of other critical components in its new receiver, the AGI-4 receiver/steering controller. Here, the antenna, inertial sensors, digital compass and path planning engine all contribute to robust performance with repeatability.

Raven offers satellite and cellular delivery of both decimeter and RTK accuracy. The company’s new GPS receiver, the 600S, is going to be popular because it has such seamless integration with the company’s field computers and other systems, says Kristin Harms, marketing communications specialist. The unit comes with flexible subscription options affordably priced, she adds.

Even with better satellite systems and ground equipment, there are times when correction signals are temporarily lost. GPS equipment manufacturers have developed technology that “fills the gap,” such as with Ag Leader’s new StableLoc feature on its dual band GPS 6500 receiver. “When the signal is degraded, the receiver transitions to the next highest available correction source to allow for continued machine guidance. When the higher correction source becomes available again, StableLoc will transition back to the guidance line,” explains Sam Worley, product marketing specialist.

Ag Leader introduced the GPS 6500 and 6000 last year as well as its TerraStar subscription service, for use with the 6500. TerraStar offers 1.57-inch (4 cm) repeatable accuracy.

Back40Precision sells the Ag Leader GPS 6500 receiver — and Co-Founder Alison Hinton attests to its popularity, in part because of the unit’s “fast acquisition and significantly improved accuracy.” The company has also recently released its Back 40 RTKonnect, a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-capable NTRIP client device that can replace the need for modems in most RTK applications. This enables farmers to use their smartphones or Wi-Fi hotspots without having to get a separate data plan.

All GPS technology firms PrecisionAg spoke with agreed about the need for a variety of technology options for precision adopters of all levels.

Hinton believes that precision is becoming more widely accepted due to diversifying product lines that allow for building onto an existing system in stages. “New users are more eager to adopt thanks to increased flexibility on selected equipment options and relative price points,” she says.

Raven’s Harms agrees: “As demand increases for using higher accuracy GPS in a variety of applications, it is important that we deliver a variety of options while making them easier for the customer to implement.”

John Deere’s StarFire 3000 receiver gives users a variety of technology options, via the company’s StarFire subscription service. Adopters can get into precision guidance at the comfort and accuracy level they need, from Parallel Tracking to the one-inch, repeatable accuracy of StarFire RTK. “The StarFire 3000 receiver grows with you,” says Barry Nelson, manager, media relations.

Trimble - Xfill
Trimble xFill technology utilizes Trimble RTX technology, delivered via satellite, to “fill in” for RTK corrections in the event of temporary radio or Internet connection outages.

Trimble is seeking to attract different tiers of users with its subscription services. The company started by introducing CenterPoint RTX in 2011.

CenterPoint RTX delivers GPS/GNSS-enabled, repeatable 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) corrections via satellite directly to the built-in receiver in users’ existing Trimble displays. No base stations, additional radio hardware or cellular modems are needed. “Our engineers have come up with some pretty powerful breakthroughs in terms of how you can get centimeter accuracy from the sky, in a way that wasn’t possible before,” says Lisa Weatherbee, Trimble Positioning Services’ business area director for the Americas.

Even in the few years since the CenterPoint RTX introduction, the Trimble team has made improvements, including shortening field convergence time. “In North America and Europe, growers can turn on the tractor and get to work almost immediately,” explains T.J. Schulte, marketing manager, Trimble Agriculture Division. Trimble’s RTX technology is also used to help RTK users who might experience interruptions in their radio signals. With a feature called Trimble xFill, farmers can keep working through a brief RTK radio outage or loss of cellular connectivity.

While CenterPoint RTX has been well received in the market, he says the company wanted to attract growers who were not using any kind of high accuracy service. Trimble then introduced RangePoint RTX, a subscription service which offers half-meter accuracy (15 cm pass-to-pass) at a affordable price point.

“We’ve seen a lot of people go off using WAAS, for instance, and start taking advantage of better accuracy. They can start working their way up that accuracy curve,” says Schulte.

Growing Uses

Steering systems launched the whole precision ag phenom years ago, and manufacturers have been developing many more vital ways to harness new GPS possibilities ever since.

One of the most powerful has been variable-rate application. The GNSS/GPS products that are getting the most attention and selling best are the simple logging and rate control devices that can be accessed through a cell phone (or mobile device), says Insero’s Guyette.

“Products like AgOtter allow a box to sit and record all GNSS/GPS and spray data all day every day.  It can also control to a constant rate if wanted/needed.  It has the ability to communicate with any Apple product — iPhone, iPad, iPod — and relay all data wirelessly with a button push,” he says. “The mobile device can be used as a real-time coverage map (and rate monitor) if the user wants, or a manager can simply put the monitor away and the box will record and control on its own — unseen and virtually unknown to the driver.”

Now GPS technology is starting to take off in planter and seeder control, adjusting populations — and ultimately, switching varieties — on the go.

Other new applications, such as control of irrigation systems, are also gaining traction. This new sector comes at a time when careful use and protection of water resources has gained national attention. GPS technologies are also being used in fleet management and field scouting.

Perhaps not surprisingly, manufacturers agreed that one of the biggest challenges they face ahead is how to use GPS more effectively to help dealers and growers collect, manage and evaluate data. Stay tuned.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Asia Stories
Africa/Middle EastPERSPECTIVE: Is Bayer’s Highly-Anticipated xarvio App the Next Uber for Ag?
November 22, 2017
As many of our CropLife IRON readers might know, every summer at MAGIE we award the most popular product featured Read More
Drones-in-China-Photo-Sipa-Asia-Rex-Shutterstock
AsiaChinese Farmers Using Drones to Spray Pesticides
November 22, 2017
Farmers in China have caught up with the country’s booming drone trend and started using unmanned aircraft to spray pesticide Read More
Iowa-Farmer China
AsiaIowa Farm a Model for Modernizing China Agriculture
November 16, 2017
The buddy seat on Rick Kimberley’s combine-harvester is a fine vantage point from which to observe precision farming. The combine’s Read More
Sugarcane India
AsiaIndian Farmers Look to Harvest the Fruits of AI
October 30, 2017
Come December, tur growers in Karnataka can look forward to the prospect of having a better visibility on the price Read More
Trending Articles
Used Combine
Service ProvidersFinding New Precision Ag Opportunities in Older Equipment
November 15, 2017
Whether to buy new or used equipment has been and continues to be an important topic for growers. When it Read More
Blue River Tech See and Spray prototype in CA
Business ManagementIs the Agtech Startup Boom Over?
November 13, 2017
In the past few months there has been a flurry of acquisitions of agtech startups by major players in the Read More
Spray Drift
Business ManagementProtecting Your Business with Ag Data: What Dicamba Can Teach Us (Guest Column)
November 9, 2017
All over the country, in ag communities large and small, farmers are reporting crop damage, neighbors are fighting, lawsuits and Read More
Kokoda-Trek2
Australia/New ZealandPrecision Agriculture in Papua New Guinea
November 2, 2017
I recently spent two weeks in the Central Highlands area of Papua New Guinea (PNG) on the Kokoda Track. The Read More
Robotic-Field-Scanner
Specialty CropsOpinion: Agriculture’s Big Data is Coming to You
October 20, 2017
If you think your world is changing at a dizzying pace, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. That’s my takeaway from Read More
Brazil-Soybean-field
AmericasIPNI Brazil: Precision Agriculture to Improve Nutrient Use Efficiency
October 16, 2017
As I mentioned in my last article, the IPNI Brazil Symposium on Precision Agriculture was held in early October in Read More
Latest News
Net-Neutrality
Data ManagementNet Neutrality in the Age of Digital Farming
November 22, 2017
Is the Internet as a “pipeline” for data a public utility, or an entity that should be open for manipulation Read More
Africa/Middle EastPERSPECTIVE: Is Bayer’s Highly-Anticipated xarvio…
November 22, 2017
As many of our CropLife IRON readers might know, every summer at MAGIE we award the most popular product featured Read More
Drones-in-China-Photo-Sipa-Asia-Rex-Shutterstock
AsiaChinese Farmers Using Drones to Spray Pesticides
November 22, 2017
Farmers in China have caught up with the country’s booming drone trend and started using unmanned aircraft to spray pesticide Read More
Data ManagementHappy Thanksgiving: Cargill Traceable Turkey Program Le…
November 22, 2017
Cargill’s traceable turkey pilot program is bringing consumers closer to the source of their Thanksgiving turkey using blockchain technology. The Read More
EuropeAgritechnica 2017: 5 Quick Takeaways from World’s Top F…
November 21, 2017
Agritechnica 2017 wrapped up this past weekend, and now with the show in the books and a few days to Read More
FOTO-CAPA
AmericasAgricultural Drones in Brazil: A Look at Training and P…
November 21, 2017
Technology adoption usually occurs in stages. In agriculture, it progresses best when new innovations are spurred by competition, and the Read More
Data ManagementWinField United Details Upgraded ‘Insights’…
November 21, 2017
WinField United has made several strategic investments to strengthen its total agronomy solution for retail and farmer customers, according to Read More
Service ProvidersSciFi in Ag: Smart Pills for Cows (and other livestock)
November 21, 2017
On November 13th of this year, the FDA approved the first digital pill for human-use with a digital ingestible sensor. Read More
bayer-bosch-weed-detection
Tools & Smart EquipmentState-of-the-Art Weed Detection Technology Could be Ava…
November 20, 2017
As part of a three-year research partnership between two German agricultural and tech giants, Bayer and Bosch are developing smart Read More
DronesDrones Play Critical Role in Ohio Agricultural Research
November 17, 2017
The Springfield Beckley-Municipal Airport now has a new hangar for unmanned aircraft and precision agriculture, writes Allyson Brown on GovTech.com. Read More
Iowa-Farmer China
AsiaIowa Farm a Model for Modernizing China Agriculture
November 16, 2017
The buddy seat on Rick Kimberley’s combine-harvester is a fine vantage point from which to observe precision farming. The combine’s Read More
Field
Data ManagementThe Climate Corp., Deveron Form Drone Analytics Partner…
November 16, 2017
The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., has announced a partnership with Deveron UAS Corp., that will deliver farmers Read More
aggateway
Service ProvidersAgGateway Recognizes Leaders at 2017 Annual Conference
November 16, 2017
At its annual conference last week, AgGateway honored individuals and companies that are advancing electronic connectivity efforts in agriculture and Read More
corn field
UncategorizedTopcon Agriculture Prepares to Release Horizon 4.02
November 15, 2017
Topcon Agriculture has announced the addition of new functions including Auto Turn and Steer to Boundary applications in its upcoming Read More
Used Combine
Service ProvidersFinding New Precision Ag Opportunities in Older Equipme…
November 15, 2017
Whether to buy new or used equipment has been and continues to be an important topic for growers. When it Read More
John-Deere-Air-Carts
Systems ManagementJohn Deere 1910 Air Carts Can Now Be Retrofitted with S…
November 14, 2017
Intelligent Agricultural Solutions, LLC (Intelligent Ag), a leader in electronics innovations for modern farming, has released Engage Zone Control, the Read More
Climate FieldView Script Creator
EuropeThe Climate Corp. Expands Global Digital Agriculture Pl…
November 14, 2017
The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., has announced at Agritechnica, the world’s leading trade fair for agricultural machinery, Read More
Soybean-Field-Photo-Barbara-Eckstein
Data ManagementWeather Forecasting: How Does It Work, and How Reliable…
November 14, 2017
Do you ever wonder exactly how the weather forecast is made? And how good are they, really? In last month’s Read More