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Spotlight: New GPS Software Aids Farmers

By | September 27, 2004

      NavCom Technology, a unit of Deere & Company [DE], is targeting the agricultural industry by pushing Global Positioning System (GPS) services into the untraditional role of helping farmers plow their fields with precision.

      The company is introducing version 3.0.0 GPS software to provide such features as RTK Extend, a technology that uses the capabilities of the StarFire satellite-based positioning system to help overcome the problem of communication dropouts for farmers on their tractors. The software also provides NavCom’s proprietary SureNav capability to help ensure optimal navigation-mode selection for increased positioning accuracy of as close as two centimeters.

      “The beauty of this combined service is that we make StarFire as accurate as RTK,” said Kevin Dixon, NavCom’s GPS product manager. The software is intended to let the wheels of a tractor go through the same ruts each time a field is plowed. Before the latest innovation, a lost signal from an RTK system would force a farmer to stop plowing until the connection was re-established.

      RTK Extend technology is combined with the StarFire global positioning system to eliminate communication dropouts caused by such obstacles as hills, trees and buildings. Those objects can interrupt the communication link between the tractor and the base station set up on the farm; they also prevent a traditional RTK system from producing a position fix. The RTK Extend feature reportedly overcomes this problem by continuously computing both RTK and StarFire solutions simultaneously.

      “A farmer wants to keep going,” Dixon said. “The RTK uses a radio data link in the 900 MHz range. When a farmer loses his radio link on RTK, the software initializes the StarFire GPS system of his position and locks in the accuracy at that point for the next 15 minutes. If we cannot [re-establish] communications links at that time, we go back to normal StarFire accuracy.”

      While the RTK is operating, it keeps the backup StarFire system locked to the RTK until it is needed to overcome any outage. (Kevin Dixon, NavCom, 310/381-2854)

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