13 August 1999

Laser guided combines for next harvest

AN automatic guidance system which uses laser beams to steer combine harvesters while they cut the crop, will be available from Claas for next years grain harvest.

Laser Pilot, which has been developed for top models in the companys Lexion range is aimed at increasing harvesting efficiency by ensuring the full cutting width of large headers is fully exploited.

The Laser Pilot sensor is mounted on the left-hand side of the header and its job is to detect the cut edge of the standing crop. It has a magic eye which sends out a laser beam to a point approximately 14m ahead of the cutterbar, and the sensor unit also measures the time taken for the laser beam to reach its target.

The laser beam, which oscillates to cover a 3m band, travels further to reach the cut stubble than the standing crop, and measuring the time difference enables the Laser Pilot to identify the edge of the crop. A computer system uses information from the laser to control the steering automatically, keeping the header constantly filled.

Laser Pilot is used only when the combine is cutting, allowing the operator to keep his hands off the steering wheel, but for road travel, headland turns or short work the driver takes over. To change from auto to manual, the driver simply turns the steering wheel, and this can be done at any time.

As well as identifying the cut edge, Laser Pilot can also follow a tramline, and this is useful when opening up a new section of a field. When there is no crop edge to follow – because the combine has reached the edge of a block or a gap caused by a major drill blockage – the laser control stops working and the driver should take over.

If the driver does not take control, a fail-safe system automatically steers to the right, avoiding the risk of a collision with a tractor and grain trailer if the auto control fails while the grain tank is unloading. Advantages claimed for Laser Pilot include allowing the driver more time to attend to other aspects of combine management, reducing operator fatigue during long periods at the controls. Laser Pilot is available as an extra cost option on new Lexion combines fitted with 25 and 30ft headers ordered for the year 2000 harvest. &#42