Anyone who has ever sat on a tractor would easily get the impression that this is something like a rolling high tech control centre. Long gone are the times of rural offline romance. Nowadays, agricultural machines are not only fully automated and digitalised; they depend on a permanent connection to the internet, even in the event that 30 schoolkids would use their smartphones simultaneously in a passing bus, challenging the mobile network to the fullest.
Into this gap steps the project agriloc, which last week has been paying a visit to Telespazio VEGA Deutschland for the first time. During this third User Workshop, requirements of big farmers, end users and experts have been discussed, who are all relying on a permanent connection to the internet, for instance to ensure accuracy of positioning to the centimetre and automatic control of the tractor.
The tractor goes online - via satellite
Among the participants were also those companies developing the new technology, looking for feedback from users and end users, urgently needed. In that frame, Telespazio VEGA develops a satellite modem, which can be integrated into the tractor easily. In case of a poor GSM or LTE connection, the modem will automatically come to life and take over the data transmission via satellite. During test campaigns, the driver can see which transmission path is currently used thanks to a dedicated app. The necessary uplink- and downlink bandwidth is also provided by Telespazio.
The agriloc user workshop participants: Experts on Space Technology, Farming vehicles and Testing.
Osman Kalden, in-house manager of this development at Telespazio VEGA, was very satisfied with the feedback received during the Workshop. ‘To us it is really important to be able to speak to the end user and to get direct feedback. It will be down to very basic questions, if the system can be used eventually. Like if the interfaces of the modem match to those of the tractor, how user friendly the system is, if the bandwidth is sufficient, how fail-safe it needs to be or what performance farmers are really expecting. These are all questions that only experts with hands-on experience can answer.’
Thoroughly controlled - thoroughly tested
Using a permanent internet connection and receiving more accurate positioning data, also puts John Deere, international manufacturer of agricultural vehicles, in a position, where they can improve their products. More accurate positioning data also means that the automatic control needs to be developed further. And then the question to the end user arises: how precise can and must the control achieved be? On huge agricultural surfaces eventually every centimetre and every degree of deviation counts.
It is the duty of the German Agricultural Society (DLG), whose representatives have closely followed the Workshop, to clarify if the components can work together effectively in the end. For only if the new technology has been tested and certified successfully, it can be put on the market after the demo phase in March 2018 and can then be beneficial for many end users.
‘There will be many more Workshops before we have a product that is ready for serial production’, continues Osman Kalden. ‘Until that date we have to carry on developing, testing und reassuring ourselves that we are delivering the product that the customers, i.e. the farmers, need.’
However, at the end of the Workshop the attendees were allowed leaving their area of expertise for a moment to take a guided tour through ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre nearby. And also there they found experts on accurate navigation; for example on Earth but also when it comes to journeys to distant comets.
Thumbnail: John Deere
Agriloc on the ESA ARTES 20 Website
John Deere Website
Satellite communication portfolio in Germany
Networks & Connectivity in Telespazio