John Deere isn’t the only manufacturer of automated guidance systems for the ag industry. Among others working on automated steering is Trimble, a California-based maker of navigation products founded by three Hewlett-Packard engineers in 1978. The company has teamed with Case IH and New Holland to build its AgGPS Autopilot units into tractors. A sampler of Trimble component technology:
Lightbar: Using an LCD screen and 32 bright LEDs, the AgGPS EZ-Guide lightbars enable operators to manually steer equipment along a line prescribed by a GPS receiver.
FieldManager Display: The AgGPS Display employs a large touch screen and proprietary software for GPS guidance, automated steering controls and field pattern options.
GPS receivers: AgGPS receivers use satellite communications and then send the data to navigation controllers.
Navigation controller: The Navcontroller II uses data from the GPS receiver and internal sensors, then sends precise instructions to the steering system’s control valve.
Control valve: A hydraulic control valve receives electrical signals from the Navcontroller and converts them to hydraulic commands for the steering system.
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For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.