It’s one of the most common complaints made by precision agriculture practitioners about precision agriculture: “Why don’t these (fill in the blank with equipment) work together more eamlessly?”
As virtually every industry develops, over time there becomes a crisis of compatibility. For instance, in the early days of television, the government imposed a “television freeze” so it could establish broadcast and technology standards to ensure that all signals broadcast could be received by all televisions sold.
Rarely, however, is such a dramatic move taken. Usually the market is left to sort out the issues and determine the best way to balance entrepreneurial development with set-in-stone standards. In agriculture, there has been a significant value in allowing driven entrepreneurs to work on and develop new products.
But the result is a generally more proprietary approach to building equipment, and that’s certainly true among the ranks of tractor, combine, and application equipment manufacturers. Proprietary approaches mean that the companies that build OEM products for use on tractors, combines, and application rigs must develop equipment on a company by company basis.
Recently, however, the tide has started to turn. ISO 11783, a standard developed specifically for agriculture equipment that’s been in heavy use in Europe for years, is gaining momentum in the U.S. A specification defining how 11783 should be interpreted, known as ISOBUS, has been embraced by the major manufacturers, and most OEM manufacturers have committed to keeping up with the ISOBUS specification into the future.
The ISOBUS standards provide a baseline “language” between the drive unit and the system. Fully implemented, any color of implement could be attached to any drive unit featuring ISOBUS without any incompatibility issues.
At the heart of this standardized system is the Controller Area Network, or CAN, which allows the unit to communicate and share information about the operation of the machine. Combined with an on-board computer, the user not only has a fully compatible “plug and play” system, but also is able to collect a wide range of data about the operation of the machine. Information about factors such as equipment load, fuel usage, hours of operation, and other key data can be collected and stored along with precision data.
Another advantage with ISOBUS is the inclusion of a virtual terminal (VT), which can control any ISOBUS-compatible implement regardless of color. Only one VT is needed, allowing the operator to control multiple implements simultaneously.
Finally, the system can be connected to via a single connector that, when ISOBUS becomes universal, will allow plug and play operation similar to adding Windows-compatible software or hardware to a desktop computer.
Time Has Come
ISOBUS will take time to fully root here in the U.S., but overall it seems to be an idea who’s time has come, judging by the commitments the big three equipment manufacturers — AGCO, John Deere, and Case IH — and most precision manufacturers as well.
Case IH has had ISOBUS vehicles for the past three years,” says Nate Weinkauf, marketing manager, Advanced Farming Systems with Case IH Application Equipment. “We continue to add additional vehicles and implements every year. Case IH has made the commitment to this standard and will continue in the future.”
“Hemisphere GPS is fully committed to following the ISOBUS standards for our GPS and guidance and steering equipment,” says John Bohlke, product marketing manager. “For the last several years, we have included CAN communication and other software components between our hardware components, and also those of our OEM partners compatible with ISOBUS standards. We intend to extend that capability as more ISOBUS systems become available.”