GPS – WHAT’S ON OFFER? HERE’S A ROUND-UP

GPS coming of age  







Farm Works



Farm-Works-auto-steer
This Scottish-based firm already sells guidance software under the Guide Mate name. In May it started offering steering assist, too, in the form of the Raven Quicktraxx system.


The software is loaded on to a handheld computer (aka PDA) that also runs Windows, so one immediate benefit is that the unit can double as a sat-nav in your car. You can also move it pretty easily from one tractor cab to another, says the firm’s Phil Templeton, or indeed take it back to the farm office.


Cost of the basic unit (PDA + software + GPS receiver) is £1600 and you’ll need to pay another £8500 to have the steering assist option. In case you find the PDA screen a bit small to view in day-to-day use, you can add a bluetooth lightbar to the system for £300.







Beeline Technologies




Beeline-GPS-display

You may well not have heard of Beeline before, but it is an Australian firm that has been working on GPS guidance for 10 years. Beeline has traditionally just sold GPS systems through Agco brands like Massey Ferguson and Fendt, but is now dipping its toe into the aftermarket. It claims to be able to supply systems for most Deere, Agco and Case New Holland products and is currently trialling three assisted-steer JCB Fastracs. It’s also looking for UK dealers, says the firm’s European support manager Nathan Watkins.


“As more and more people invest in GPS systems, volumes are rising and costs dropping. Also, a lot of the technology used to come from the high-price aviation industry but the auto industry has jumped in now,” he explained.


He reckons that, in take-up terms, European markets are still five years behind the USA, where assisted-steer and full autosteer are beginning to displace guidance-only systems. There, big-acreage farmers have found that they can cut their fieldwork times by running accurately through the night and cut fuel costs by 10% by reducing pass-to-pass overlap.








Patchwork




Patchwork-Raven-Envizio

Monmouthshire-based Patchwork Technology already sells a variety of GPS kit, including the BBGuide. This £1500 unit is aimed at the entry-level customer and uses a neat handheld computer to provide guidance.


But the unit that’s attracting more attention at the moment is the more expensive (£2200) Raven Envizio (pictured), which Patchwork started to bring in last autumn. It can be bought as a GPS guidance unit only or used as the basis of an assisted-steer set-up.


Although the colour screen is not particularly large, it can display both the traditional overhead view of the field and the increasingly popular look-ahead view. The latter shows the field stretching ahead towards the horizon and this videogame-type view is said to give a more intuitive way of working.


The use of colour also means that you can see easily which bouts have been covered and which haven’t.


Adding steering will cost you another £4500 or so and you can specify five levels of steering accuracy, including an ultra-accurate £20,000 RTK station that can give you accuracies down to less than 10cm.


Like many GPS companies, Patchwork is also looking closely at how GPS logging systems can help farmers (and particularly contractors) meet increasingly-tough assurance and traceability rules.


In the past, the complexity of this logging process has put off all but the most committed operators, but Patchwork says the structure of its menu system means the driver just has to pick options from lists – so no tedious keying in of complicated chemical names. Cost is £1500 for the software and display.






Trimble




Trimble-Ez-Guide-500-Plus

Back in the 2005 FW GPS guidance test, Trimble was fielding the EZ Guide 150, with black and white screen and easy-to-use characteristics. This is still available for £1350 but a new model launched at Cereals, the EZ Guide 500, was getting the lion’s share of the attention.


Instead of the 3.5in black and white screen, it has a daylight-readable 7in colour screen and a number of new bells and whistles. There’s also the capability to shut off the boom automatically at bout-ends.


Many of these were things that farmers have asked for, says William Mumford from southern Trimble agent AS communications, though customers aren’t always clear how to integrate these new features with their existing farm office software.


One new trick, for instance, is a USB port that allows you to download maps to your PC. Most mapping software can deal with these maps and even if yours doesn’t you can download free software that will.


But you do need to think about what exactly these maps will be used for, says Mr Mumford. For example a contractor could use the facility to show the farmer exactly which part of a field he’s covered.








DGPS 4U




DGPS-4U-Jethro-display

Behind this up-to-the-minute name is an Aberdeenshire GPS specialist which already offers the low-end Sirio Lightbar for £1200. But it’s in the final stages of developing what looks like one of the nicest GPS displays on the market.


It’s called Jethro (though what Mr Tull would have made of it we can only guess) and is based on a tablet PC with 7in screen. But it’s the computer-game graphics that are striking, with the ability to drop a flag on a spot you want to return to, flashing icons that show if you’re straying off the straight-and-narrow and even a reversing camera mode. It also does auto-boom shut-off, runs Word and can access the internet. Cost is expected to be £1850 for the package and sales start this month.








Outback




Outback-1

Outback GPS equipment is sold through Claas dealers and supported by precision farming specialist SOYL.


The biggest seller is the £1895 Outback S. It’s a fast-fit unit with big pushpads, said our 2005 test, and an easy-to-follow display.


The S2, launched last year, is the same basic machine with enhanced accuracy and can use any form of GPS signal correction. So it is potentially more accurate. Cost is £3150 and there is also an eDrive assisted steering option.








TeeJet




TeeJet-Centerline220

TeeJet bought LH Agro in 2001 and offers two models, the Classic (which supports auto boom shut-off) and the newer Centerline 220. However of these it’s the cheap-and-cheerful £1195 Centerline 220 that’s proving very popular.


It’s an entry-level model with no memories, headland mode or field area calculation, but can do curved and straight bouts and has a return-to-point feature. With a price that’s not much higher than a foam bout marker, says the firm’s Martin Baxter, it’s selling like the proverbial hot cakes. It’s also marketed by Kverneland under the StarGuide name.


New at this year’s Cereals event was an option that allows it to be turned into an assisted-steer system by adding Teejet’s Field-Pilot system. This is currently only available through the dealer network, but a retrofit version is due at the beginning of 2008. Cost is £3400 on top of the £1195 of the base unit.


Assisted steer is getting more popular, says Mr Baxter, but most buyers are currently edging into GPS guidance before going the whole autosteer hog.