Lightbars: Improving On The Basics

“The improvements seen in lightbar products are generally in features and application,” says Tom Causey, Topcon Ag and OEM advertising manager. “The PCS-100 brings core features with the benefit of simple operation, rugged design, and upgrades to the industry in display screen.”

Lower Prices, Better Accuracy

In January 2008, Trimble introduced an affordable lightbar system designed with consistent pass-to-pass accuracy and advanced, easy-to-use guidance patterns. “With the introduction of the AgGPS EZ-Guide 250 lightbar system, Trimble has set a new standard for affordable guidance solutions,” says Trimble Agricultural Division General Manager Erik Arvesen, describing the new system as economical and packed with features, as well as “costing considerably less than comparable solutions available today from any manufacturer.”

As with any technology, improvements continue over time as more manufacturers get involved. The increased competition and advancing expertise that reduce pricing have also improved lightbar accuracy. “As with any electronics, improvements in components and manufacturing capabilities, coupled with advances in GPS technology are allowing for more affordable and more accurate lightbars to be produced and marketed,” explains Jeff Farrar, channel marketing manager of Hemisphere GPS.

Increased Demand

With more machinery in the fields, there has been an uptick in demand. “Topcon has seen an ever-increasing interest in all segments of precision ag, from entry lightbar systems to full precision control systems,” says Causey. “The Topcon PCS-100 will address a group of producers who are looking for basic guidance and coverage mapping as well as a new group of producers who are just entering the market.”

Farrar adds: “Basic GPS lightbars are now available for under $1,000, which has opened the door to a broader demographic of farmer to incorporate GPS into their operations to assist with offsetting the ever-growing input costs. After seeing the benefits, GPS utilization in ag seems to be somewhat addictive, with most users realizing the need for more.”

Technology Trends

“Visual awareness and autosteering systems appear to be the hot items for ’08,” says Farrar. “Utilization of this technology is allowing growers to be more productive and efficient.” With competition from graphic displays, lightbars must not only be able to offer themselves as the cheapest option, but as a viable alternative that can offer growers equal visual cues and accurate information.

“Precision agriculture products will continue to grow in features and applications, allowing the producers to maintain control of the increasing input costs,” says Causey. “With additional features, applications, and markets, the trend is for precision agriculture products to become complicated for the user to install and use. Simplicity, flexibility, and stability will be key features of new products.”

New Offerings

Several manufacturers are raising their game in 2008; new equipment includes the Topcon PCS-100 lightbar guidance system and two new guidance products from Hemisphere GPS, along with Trimble’s EZ-Guide 250 system for new GPS guidance users.

“The PCS-100 combines core features like multiple-pattern guidance, on-screen mapping, and acre calculation into a rugged and simple to use unit,” describes Causey.

Hemisphere GPS’s Outback Guidance line has introduced two additional GPS guidance products since May 2007, explains Farrar: “The Outback S-Lite is an entry level GPS lightbar which retails for under $1,000.” It includes straight guidance, contour guidance, and return to point, and is expandable to work with Outback AutoMate, which monitors and controls individual sprayer sections to minimize overlaps and skips.

“The Outback S3 is an all new GPS guidance and mapping system which retails for $3,995,” says Farrar, with an 8.4-inch color touch screen providing constant situational awareness and easy-to-read job data in real time.

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