The process for data communication in precision farming has changed greatly in the past 20 years and maybe is one of the fastest moving technology pieces, today. Though it is not a major piece of hardware or software, it is inherent in most tasks a precision grower does and the services that his dealers provide.
Analyzing farm information has become an important part of precision farming and communication technology has allowed this data to be transferred more easily, and faster than ever from the implement to the office or dealership for analysis.
Data transfer also refers to the communications within an implement or device, which is necessary to collect data from sensors and move it to a display/monitor. This includes data flowing from a mass flow sensor or moisture sensors on a combine to the display in the cab.
Transferring data within the implement started out as a one-way street. Communicating with a single device required at least two lines — one going to the device and one coming from the device. Though this was common in most electronics, it is slowly disappearing and very rarely do we see a “serial” port on new computers.
With the number of devices being installed on implements, it soon became apparent that a serial-bus was not going to work. Having two separate lines going to each device on an implement would require a huge bundle of lines.
So agriculture borrowed a technology from the auto industry called CANBUS, which allowed data to be pushed through a single line to several devices, in both directions. This bi-directional system works because we have nodes or modules controlling “data traffic,” making sure the data gets to where it needs to be. Most implements have a CANBUS wiring harness routed through the tractor cab and implement (in a semi-hidden way) to connect all of the devices with the monitor/controller in the cab.
But this presented a new problem — each company designs its own harnesses, connectors and “protocol” for data traffic control. Yet growers often want to use different equipment brands together. This drove ISOBUS, which allows connecting a purple tractor to an orange implement. But not all implements and tractors have ISOBUS, so there are still some connection issues.
“Wireless communication still needs to be ‘invisible,’ so the farmer does not have to think or worry about the data...”
The future of data transfer though, is wireless. Bluetooth, radio frequency, (similar to the walkie-talkies that we used as kids) or cellular are types of wireless communication that allows data transfer. A few systems exist that allow a display or controller in the tractor to communicate wirelessly with devices on the implements for control. It is also being used in autonomous implements such as grain carts or planters to follow a lead implement through the field autonomously.
Communication between implements and the office using cellular signals allows exchange of data during harvest or planting. It also allows precision technicians to view and possibly operate their customer’s software from a remote location, miles away.
Even though change in data transfer has focused on making transfer easier and packing more memory into a smaller space, there are still limitations. Growers still need support to get their data from the implement, and have issues connecting to their devices that can still lead to the loss of data.
Wireless communication shows a lot of promise and will grow in the future to the point where wired harness may not be needed. It still needs to be made “invisible,” in that communication needs to work seamlessly enough where the grower does not have to think or worry about the data.