22 March 1996

Strong-box keeps laptop safe – even in the tractor cab

Box of tricks…The hand-held Satcon Satograph houses a GPS satellite receiver, field measuring software, display screen and keypad. Price is £10,000-£12,000, which includes a separate GPS base reference station and software for the office computer.

ROUGH-TOUGH tractor cabs and lap-top computer hardware are not the best of bedfellows. One is designed to cope with muck, water and welly abuse, while the other? No, not really.

German company Satcon-System claims to have overcome this compatibility problem by developing a satellite mapping package in which all the main components are housed in one 800g (1.8lb), heavy-duty case.

Whereas most computerised mapping systems use separate bolt-in-place display monitors, satellite receiver boxes and keypads, the Satcon Satograph manages to squeeze these components into a single 142mm x 100mm (5.5in x 4in) hand-held unit. The only extra kit required is a base reference station for correcting the main global positioning system satellite signal.

"The beauty of the system is its compactness," says Richard Palmer of Flo-Tag, the Satographs UK importer. "Because the unit is so portable, it is not restricted to on-machine use. For example, the Satograph allows a farmer to plot weed problem areas as he walks his fields. Then, when he gets back to the farm office, he simply downloads the information on to his main computer to produce a weed map."

As well as importing Satcon equipment, Flo-Tag is also the UK distributor of Ag-Chem machinery and its Soilection system – a technique which uses a specialist fertiliser spreader to blend site-specific compound cocktails as it moves across the field.

The recipe for the systems bulk fertiliser cocktail is based on information from a digitised soil analysis map. And it is the time consuming procedure of manually gridding up such maps which explains Flo-tags interest in the auto-mapping Satograph.

"Initially we are bringing in the German equipment to speed up the soil mapping/sampling part of our Soilection system. But the same hand-held unit can also be used for weed mapping and area measurement," Mr Palmer says.

Future plans include the development of computer software to enable the Satograph to be used for all field operations where satellite positioning is required. &#42