The objectives of the agriloc project are to demonstrate how satellite navigation and satellite telecommunications can together provide the basis of solutions for High Precision Farming, allowing for the treatment of individual plants. In parallel, new test systems, procedures, and services have been developed to support the development and later the farmers with test reports and label-testing which are important to the end-users in their purchasing decisions.
Users and their needs
The primary target users of agriloc are large-scale arable farmers, growing mainly small grains typically in crop rotations with corn and speciality crops (such as potatoes and sugar beet) in highly mechanised production processes.
Two further market segments considered are livestock farmers (dairy or cattle) who have sufficient size to grow their own feed (arable part of their operation) and contractors who run operations very similar to large arable farmers. The technology developed is also of interest to speciality farmers who grow row crops (such as vegetables and fruit) and are often characterised by significantly smaller farm size and a lot of manual labour. Although the individual production systems can look very different, they all have common goals.
The main driver for these users is the need to achieve higher yield per acre and better crop quality. This requires an exact seed placement that allows the plant to optimally develop, and mechanical weed removal replacing chemical methods. This is enabled by a highly accurate, constantly available navigation and control.
Secondary goals of these users include increased efficiency, reduced cost (e.g. of fuel, seeds, fertiliser, and labour) and maximising the uptime of machines.
Finally, while farming is becoming highly digitalised, online Smart Farming portals and services are becoming state of the art. 67% of the farmers in Germany are not satisfied by their Internet access and need a solution to be able to profit from online services, purchase the farm inputs and spare parts they need, and sell their products online.
The pilot service demonstrations were carried out in Germany. In the future agriloc services are planned to be provided in the whole of Europe.
Service/ system concept
The intended solution consists of three main complementary parts, with each agriloc partner being responsible for one element. The guidance solution, enabled by GNSS and developed by John Deere, was implemented in the steering system of the vehicle. The reliable connectivity solution using terrestrial and satellite telecommunication developed by Telespazio VEGA ensures that the guidance solution always has access to the required position correction data for precise steering, and the Broadband Satellite Internet solution offers farmers fast, highly available, affordable, Internet access. The test services developed by DLG have two functions: during the development phase, they were used for independent testing of the guidance, navigation and connectivity solutions, and subsequently for label-testing which from the farmers’ perspective is important for making their technology and purchasing decisions.
Space Added Value
Precision Farming relies on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and associated satellite-based wide-area Differential GNSS. Communication satellites on the other hand provide the highly reliable and globally available medium for continuous automated Precision Farming processes such as planning, fleet management, synchronisation of machinery, and transmission of satellite navigation correction messages, and broadband Internet access everywhere.
The benefits of the agriloc systems & services can be described as follows:
- Increased productivity.
- Increased availability of machinery.
- Reduced production costs.
- Reduced environmental impact.
- Increased user-friendliness.
These benefits are achieved with the agriloc systems & services through higher yield and product quality, faster and more efficient operations, ease of use, longer operation windows, increased machinery uptime as a result of reliable connectivity for automated processes, and finally through savings in fuel and agricultural and other inputs (including labour), while enabling reduction of use of chemicals through precise steering and mechanical processes.
Broadband Satcom Internet: Telespazio VEGA Broadband Satcom Internet systems and services were set up for farmers in two variants: a low-cost fixed-installation, and a portable version with 75 GB capacity per month and bandwidths similar to DSL, supporting IP phone calls and video streaming. These prototypes have been demonstrated to farmers and provided to numerous pilot users, accumulating throughout the project over one year of operation at pilot farms. Several pilot users have already become paying customers. The feedback from farmers was collected and the products have been improved continuously. Finally the fixed Satcom Internet product has been tested by DLG and was awarded the “DLG Approved” label at Agritechnica 2017.
The systems consist of a satellite dish, transceiver (iLNB), and a modem providing the user with Wi-Fi broadband access to Internet. The portable Satcom Internet product is interesting for contractors and agricultural machinery dealers and service personnel who need fast Internet access at different customer locations. It includes, in addition to the fixed one, an automatic pointing and stowing system and a rugged suitcase for transporting the system in a car or truck to different operation sites.
Mobile Satcom: A prototype modem was developed and demonstrated during the agriloc project which utilises cellular networks and communication satellites for providing high-availability connectivity for Precision Farming machinery requiring GNSS corrections for precise automatic steering and telemetry for fleet monitoring, sensor data, and process automation.
The application focus in agriloc was RTK transmission for automatic steering systems. The modem was successfully tested with various RTK services and GNSS receivers, as well as the John Deere StarFire system. During the pilot demonstration phase the system was demonstrated and tested with numerous end users at their farms.
Guidance Navigation and Control: Tracking of Galileo and Beidou Navigation Satellites with a StarFire Receiver was demonstrated in a field environment. The tracked satellites and their influence on the position solution and accuracy were shown on a laptop connected to the diagnostic port of the receiver.
GNC Testing: The previous DLG Test procedures for the measurement of transversal precision of automatic steering systems were enhanced by using a new tachymeter-based measurement device. The measurement device allowed measurements with higher driving speeds of the tractor implement units, and more accurate AB line, contour, and track-to-track evaluation.
Additionally a camera-based system for the measurement of longitudinal positioning was developed. Hence, in future it will be possible to analyse the accuracy of GNC systems in two directions.
The tests of the DLG Test Service for GNC Systems were integrated into the existing DLG test frame for automatic steering systems.
Mobile Connectivity Test: The test of mobile connectivity systems is involved in the DLG Test procedure for automatic steering systems. The test procedure of this test has been optimised and enlarged to new receivers for correction signals with different transmission paths.
Portable and stationary Broadband Satcom Test: Test procedures for stationary and portable broadband Satcom systems were developed. The test procedures consider the very special conditions of practical use in agriculture. Besides the performance test, partial tests of robustness and user friendliness were also established.
The DLG Test Services for stationary and portable broadband Satcom systems are offered as R&D- and as DLG-Quality Label Tests. In 2017, the first DLG Quality Label for Broadband Satcom systems was awarded.