Precision Infrastructure

12:58AM Dec 07, 2013
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It takes more than the actual equipment to deliver results

Technology is great until it stops working. Anyone who has dropped a smartphone on a concrete shop floor can attest to that. Rural areas have the added challenge of dealing with unreliable or absent Wi-Fi. With that in mind, tech companies are developing "precision infrastructure" to help protect devices and maximize precision ag technology’s usefulness on the farm.

Get connected. "Having a mobile device isn’t that handy when it’s not mobile," says Bill Moffitt, president of Ayrstone Productivity. His goal is to stretch a farmer’s wireless network from feet to miles using the com­pany’s AyrMesh Hub2n. This technology creates a "transparent mesh" of coverage that connects Wi-Fi devices such as smartphones, remote cameras, weather stations or even signals from tractors back to the home network. The connection is available from as far as 7.5 miles away, Moffitt says.

"Once the network is in place, you could realize a lot of opportunities," he says. Because the devices are connected to a home router, farmers do not require ongoing cellphone expenses, Moffitt adds. Ag Leader is also releasing a "bring your own hot spot" solution to the farm. The company recently launched AgFiniti, a small USB Wi-Fi adapter that communicates with other Wi-Fi networks.

"If you have a smartphone or tablet, you’re paying for the data plan," says David Wilson, Ag Leader wireless product specialist. "Now you can use it to provide an Internet connection to your Ag Leader Integra or Versa display."

The USB Wi-Fi adapter allows display users to receive prescriptions, guidance lines and field boundaries, plus send log data to AgFiniti. Ag Leader president Al Myers says farmers in extremely rural areas shouldn’t have to miss out on instantaneous decision-making opportunities.

"Now more than ever, wireless connectivity is extremely important because it arms growers and their trusted advisers with real-time information to support decisions affecting profitability," he says.

Get rugged. Bad news—you’re one accidental drop away from shelling out $500 for a new iPad. On-farm dust and dirt can be an issue, too. "The cab of a tractor, although air-conditioned and filtered, is a pretty dusty place," admits Brian Scott, an Indiana farmer. "It’s kind of a hard thing to avoid. So I figured I’d break down and protect my iPad from all that particulate matter."

Scott uses an OtterBox Defender Series, but many other brands and models have seen on-farm testing. Precision Planting even has a preferred case–Gumdrop cases.

"With the ruggedness of the cases, farmers are able to take their iPads with them from the tractor and use the device as a crop-scouting tool throughout the season, and then put it in the combine to monitor harvest operations in the fall," says Sean Arians, Precision Planting product marketing manager.

There is a similar proliferation of tablet and smartphone mounts, which makes devices easier to use in the tractor cab. Look for high-rated options from companies such as Bestek, Grifiti and Dockem. John Deere even has a bracket and mount specifically designed to maximize visibility and accessibility in a tractor, combine or sprayer.

"These brackets and mounts are designed to allow operators to access a wide variety of different mobile devices while in the cab of the tractor or other machine," says Tyler Rouse, John Deere senior marketing representative.

For the truly accident prone, smartphones such as Sony Xperia Z1 and Samsung Galaxy S4 Active are waterproof. Check with your phone provider for your exact options. 

You can e-mail Ben Potter at [email protected].