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06/10/2014

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www.ext.vt.edu
Produced by Communications and Marketing, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009
Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion,age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University,and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Mark A. McCann, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech,Blacksburg; Alma C. Hobbs, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
publication 442-501
 
Precision Farming Tools: GPS Navigation
 Robert “Bobby” Grisso, Extension engineer, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia TechMark Alley, W. G. Wysor Professor, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia TechGordon Groover, Extension economist, Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech
GPS: Its Uses and Potential AreGrowing
Global positioning systems (GPS) are widely availablein the agricultural community. Farm uses include:
•mappingyields(GPS+combineyieldmonitor),•variablerateplanting(GPS+variablerateplantingsystem),•variableratelimeandfertilizerapplication(GPS+variableratecontroller),•eldmappingforrecordsandinsurancepurposes(GPS+mappingsoftware),and•parallelswathing(GPS+navigationtool).ForareviewoftheprinciplesofGPStolocatespeciceldpoints,refertothis
GPS Tutorial
(Trimble Navi-
gationLimited,2008).GPSandassociatednavigationsystemsareusedinmanytypesofagriculturalopera
-
tions.Thesesystemsareusefulparticularlyinapplying pesticides,lime,andfertilizersandintrackingwide planters/drillsorlargegrain-harvestingplatforms.GPSnavigationtoolscanreplacefoamforsprayersand planter/drill-diskmarkersformakingparallelswathsacrossaeld.Navigationsystemshelpoperatorsreduceskipsandoverlaps,especiallywhenusingmethodsthatrelyonvisualestimationofswathdistanceand/
or counting rows. This technology reduces the chance
ofmisapplicationofagrochemicalsandhasthepoten
-
tialtosafeguardwaterquality.Also,GPSnavigationcanbeusedtokeepimplementsinthesametrafcpat
-
ternyear-to-year(controlledtrafc),thusminimizingadverseeffectsofimplementtrafc.UseofGPSnavigationinagrochemicalapplicationwithgroundequipmenthasgrownrapidly,andcommercialapplicatorsarequicklyadoptingthetool.Accordingtoa2007surveyofthosewhoofferedcustomapplica
-
tion(WhipkerandAkridge,2007),82percentappliedatleastsomeofthefertilizer/chemicalsusingaGPS
navigation system with a manual-control/lightbar guidance system. Twenty-nine percent said they used aGPS navigation system with an auto-control/auto-steer 
guidancesystemforatleastsomeoftheircustomappli
-
cation.Onaverage,forallcustomappliedmaterials,57 percentwasappliedwithGPSlightbar,and12percent
was applied with auto-steer GPS. GPS navigation has
 becomestandardpracticeforU.S.aerialapplicators.Cropproducersarealsostartingtoadoptthesesystems,
 because GPS navigation is an excellent way to improve
accuracy,speed,anduniformityofapplication.
Why are navigation systems important
to eld operations?
Automatedguidanceofagriculturalvehicles(tractors,combines,sprayers,spreaders)hasbeenmotivatedbyanumberoffactors—mostimportantistorelievetheoperatorfromcontinuouslymakingsteeringadjust
-
mentswhilestrivingtomaintaineldequipmentorimplementperformanceatanacceptablelevel.Thisisnotsurprising,consideringthemanyfunctionsanoperatormustmonitor,perform,and/orcontrolwhile
operating the vehicle.
Therequirementsplacedonfarm-equipmentoperatorshavechangeddrasticallywithincreasesinequipmentsize,power,multipleequipmentfunctions,andspeed— aswellasmonitorsreportingonspecicsystemper 
-
formance.Theseincreasingdemandsontheoperatorcanresultinincreasederrorsinfunction,costs,envi
-
ronmentalproblems,andoperatorfatigue.
 
2
Foam markers, a widely used technology
Foammarkersarethemostcommonformofnavigationaidusedduringfertilizerandpesticideapplication.Thefoamisdroppedandusedtoaligntheapplicatordur 
-
ingthereturnpass.Foammarkersutilizeanairpumptopressurizeatankcontainingthefoamingagent.The pressurizeduidcausesthefoamingagenttoowintoanaccumulatingchamber.Thefoamcollectsinthis
chamber until the accumulated mass overcomes sur-
facetension,causingafoamblobtofalltotheground.Mostoftenthefoamaccumulatorsareplacedattheendsoftheapplicatorboomor,alternately,atthecenteroftheapplicatorwhenboomswerenotutilized,asinthecasewithspinner-diskgranularapplicators.Equip
-
mentoperatorsusethefoamblobsleftontheeldsur 
-
faceasanavigationaidtoknowwheretheapplicator
has passed.
GPS + Navigation Aids
Relativelyinexpensivenavigationaidsknownaspar 
-
allel-trackingdevicesassisttheoperatorstovisualize
their position with respect to previous passes and to
recognizetheneedforsteeringadjustments.Theseaidsarecommerciallyavailableinseveralcongura
-
tions.Onesystemisalightbar(Figure1),whichcon
-
sistsofahorizontalseriesofLightEmittingDiodes(LEDs)inaplasticcase12inchesto18incheslong.ThissystemislinkedtoaGPSreceiverandamicro
-
 processor.Thelightbarisusuallypositionedinfrontoftheoperator,soheorshecanseetheaccuracyindica
-
tordisplaywithouttakingtheireyesofftheeld.Thelightbarcanbemountedinsideoroutsideofthecab,andtheoperatorwatchesthe“baroflight.”Ifthelightisonthecenterline,themachineisontarget.Ifabaroflightextendstotheleft,themachineisoffthepathtotheleftandneedstobecorrected.Inlikemanner,ifabaroflightextendstotheright,themachineisoffto
the right.
Softwareallowstheoperatortospecifythesensitiv
-ity to and distance between the swaths. Similar GPS
navigationsystemshavebeenusedforaerialapplica
-
tionsincetheearly1990s.Also,theGPSsystemgivesthecurrentlocationoftheimplementand,withpasttrafcpatterns,thecomputerinterfaceprovidesthe
operator directions to maintain proper swath width to
matchadjacenttrafcpaths.Ifanoperatorleavestheeldtorelltheapplicatororisforcedoutoftheeldduetoweather,uponreturn,theoperatorcanresumeandmaintainaccurateswathwidths,andover-spraying
on previous sprayed areas is eliminated.More advanced systems have a screen showing the
swathofthemachineasitmovesthroughtheeld(Fig
-
ure2).Earlymodelsonlyallowedstraight-lineparallelswaths,butcurrentmodelsareavailableforanycontourtrafcpattern.Areascoveredwithpreviousswathsare
indicated on the screen. The advanced navigation sys-tem coupled with a variable rate spreader drive and
softwarehasthecapacitytogenerate“as-applied”
maps showing previous coverage and the application
 pattern.Thisprovidesanexcellentrecordofthepat
-
ternandtimingwhileoperatingintheeld.Portionsoftheeldthatarenottreated,suchaswetareas,can bemarkedinthecomputerandstoredforlateropera
-
tionswhenconditionspermitapplication.Allofthisisdonewithouthavingtophysicallymarktheeldareawithags.
GPS + Auto-Steer Navigation
More advanced navigation systems (auto-steer sys-tems) possess similar capabilities as the navigation aidsand also have the additional option to automaticallysteer the vehicle.
Auto-steeringisaccomplishedwitha
device mounted to the steering column or through the
Figure 1. Lightbar navigation system mounted in cab and inview of forward travel.
 
3electro-hydraulic steering system.The accuracy level
ofthesesystemsisbasedonthequalityofdifferential
correction and internal data processing: as the accu-
racyimproves,thecorrespondingcostincreases.Thesenavigationsystemsareclassiedinthreecategories:
Submeter accuracy
usually means approximately
twofeettofourfeetyear-to-year,andlessthanonefootpass-to-passerrors.ThedifferentialcorrectionsourcecouldbefromaCoastGuardbeacon,WAAS
(
WideAreaAugmentationSystem),orsatelliteprovid
-ers. These systems are relatively inexpensive (about
$6,000to$15,000)andcanbeusedwhileperformingtillage,sometypesoffertilizerandchemicalapplica
-
tions,seeding,andharvesting.Thesedevicescanbeeasilytransferredbetweenvehicles,sothesamesteer 
-
ingsystemcanbeusedondifferentvehicles.However,operationsrequiringhighlyaccurateguidancearenotfeasiblewithsubmeterlevelequipment.
Decimeter accuracy
providesapproximatelyfour
inches to eight inches year-to-year and three inches to
veinchespass-to-passerrors.Thiscanbeachievedusingeitheralocalbasestationordualfrequencyreceiverswithprivatesatellitedifferentialcorrectionsubscription.Withtheincreasedperformance,opera
-
torscanuseauto-steeringduringmostoftheconven
-
tionaleldpractices.Pricesrangefrom$15,000to$25,000plusthesatellitesubscription(upto$1,500
annually).
Centimeter accuracy
can be obtained by using a local
 basestationwiththereal-timekinematic(RTK)dif 
-
ferentialcorrection.Bothlong-termandshort-termerrors(ofapproximatelyoneinch)havebeenreportedforthesesystems.Vehiclesequippedwiththishigh-levelequipmentcanbeusedtoconductstriptilling,drip-tapeplacement,landlevelingandotheroperationsrequiringsuperiorperformance—aswellasvirtuallyanyothertask.Inadditiontotheabilitytoaccuratelydeterminegeographiclocation,auto-guidancesystems
usually measure vehicle orientation in space and com-
 pensateforunusualattitude,includingroll,pitch,andyaw(seeAdditionalFeatures”fordenitions).The pricerangesfrom$40,000to$50,000withnoannualsubscriptionfees.
GPS Navigation vs. Foam Markers
PotentialadvantagesofGPSNavigation(GN)relativetofoammarkersforagriculturalapplicationsinclude:
GN is more reliable and more accurate than foam
markers.
Usingfoammarkerscouldcauseabout10 percentoftheeldtobeskippedoroverlapped.WiththeGN,theskipandoverlapratedropstoabout5
 percent. Some tests have shown that with an expe-
riencedoperator,theskipandoverlapratecanbeaslowas1.5percent.
• GN allows accuracy at higher speeds.
GPS navi-
gationcanattaina13percentto20percenthigherspeedthanafoammarker(BuickandWhite,1999). Naturally,anincreaseofspeedisterraindependent.Ifeldconditionslimitspeed,thenaGNbenetisunlikely.
• GN is a possibility with spinner spreaders (Fig
-ure 3).
Foammarkersarenotgenerallyusedwith
spinner spreaders. The spreaders have no boom on
whichthefoamequipmentcanbeinstalled.Duetothespreadwidth,afoammarkerinthecenterofthemachinepathisdifculttoseefromthenextswath,
and the driver would still be using a visual estimate
forthespreaderswath.
• GN is easy to use.
AnybodycanlearntouseGPSnavigationsystems,regardlessofcomputerskills.Thesystemsrequireonlyalittlepractice—typicallyabout30minutes.
• GN provides effective guidance over growing
crops.
Withsolid-seededcrops,foamtendstofall
through the canopy to the ground where it is almost
invisible,contributingtoskippingoroverlapping.CropheightdoesnotaffectGPS.
Figure 2. Display screens for GPS navigation systems.

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