Investing in a full-blown GPS kit might seem a daunting prospect to the uninitiated, but a Berkshire-based start-up reckons its simple lightbar could tempt reluctant stock farmers into the world of guidance. Edd Mowbray tries out Agricision’s low-priced on-Trak system.
Large-scale arable outfits have been employing guidance systems such as John Deere’s Greenstar and the Trimble FMX for over a decade now, but 80% of UK farms are yet to invest in any sort of GPS kit, according to Agricision creator Adam Keene.
The company’s on-Trak system runs through a mobile phone and tablet-based app that Mr Keene developed after a year of trials using basic prototypes to prove his design had legs.
Research by Agricision showed most farms have access to an iPhone or iPad, which is effectively one half of the kit needed to run his system and means the investment is just £675 for the on-Trak lightbar.
The simple set-up is aimed at the occasional GPS user, including grassland farmers spreading fertiliser and small-scale arable boys keen to keep a straight line when cultivating.
The system allows operators to quickly switch one guidance system between several tractors, and comes in at a fraction of the price of larger, more complicated kits that cost closer to £2,000.
The bulk of rival products require a dome on the cab roof and hardwiring to a screen inside with power from a 12-volt socket.
A fat user manual and reliable dealer back-up are indispensable during the set up of such systems and the necessary jungle of wires makes it a pain to quickly swap between tractors.
See also: 7 budget guidance systems on test
Recently, GPS systems have been targeted by thieves who have cottoned on to the value and relative ease with which a dome can be detached from a tractor cab roof.
Agricision claims the on-Trak eliminates this worry as the whole system can be easily stashed in the tractor cab or farm office when not in use.
The on-Trak box is built in the UK with the plastics formed in Leicester and the electrics wired in High Wycombe. The company also employs a team of software developers to continually update the app to fix bugs and improve features.
How does it work?
The waterproof box, which is no larger than a pack of six pork pies, is magnetically attached on each of its four corners to the tractor’s bonnet with the LEDs facing the cab.
Sticky fixings are provided for plastic bonnets and the design means the lightbar doesn’t form part of the in-cab screen, unlike many of its rivals.
Instead, the box is placed in the forward eye-line of the operator and Agricision claims such a set-up reduces the effort required by the driver to keep the tractor in a straight line.
Once switched on and in range the box connects wirelessly to the app via Bluetooth and requires no pairing codes or a phone signal. A solid green LED on the lightbar indicates a successful connection.
There isn’t anything revolutionary with the light arrangement. When one single green light is visible the correct path is being followed.
However, stray away from the desired line and up to three red lights illuminate to show the user which direction they should steer.
The sensitivity of the steering can also be altered via a slider in the settings tab. This is particularly useful as wider machines require less sensitivity when carrying narrower implements.
Setting A/B lines, field boundaries and implement width are all accessible by a few taps on the main screen and everything is pretty well labelled so even technophobes should be able to master it.
Field areas can also be mapped and saved for future operations. A drawback of this feature is that the operator must tap the screen to turn the work recording on/off while also switching off the sprayer or spreaders at the same time. However, most other boxes at the cheap end of the market work in the same way.
Cash can be saved by only buying one box to share between several farms because multiple Apple devices are able to connect to the same lightbar.
Currently there isn’t a database to save mapped fields – only the device used to create the field is able to access it – which might mean the unnecessary double mapping of fields.
A pretty accurate read out from the 2Ah lithium-ion battery is given in the top task bar on the screen and Agricision claims there is a 24-hour battery life when in continuous use.
Charging is via a USB port on the box while the app automatically updates when connected to wi-fi, which means there is no need to take it to the local dealer for the latest software update.
Switching between machines
The simplicity with which the system can be installed and removed from machines is a big plus. There are no wires to link components, so just lifting the lightbar box off the bonnet and grabbing the Apple device from the cab is all that’s required to swap between tractors.
This is especially useful at peak periods when implements tend to stay on one tractor, so having a lightbar kit that can be switched between machines is easier than dropping off the sprayer ready to go rolling.
The big catch, of course, is that Apple’s App Store is the only place to access the free-to-download operating platform. It means that if you have a Samsung or HTC smartphone running Android software you won’t be able to use the Agricision system.
This does appear a slight oversight but there are plans to offer the product on other platforms in the future, according to Mr Keene.
The Agricision box will set you back £675, so it is one of the better value lightbars on the market. However, if you don’t already own an Apple device then you’ll have to buy something like an iPad Mini, which will set you back about £250 and means initial set-up costs can be pushing close to the £1,000-mark.
While this might seem a fair price to pay for straight-as-a-die driving, spending this kind of dosh takes it closer to more sophisticated dome-and-wire kits from some of the big names in farming GPS.
For example, Topcon produces the X14 for £1,135. It requires hardwiring from the dome to the cab terminal, but is also able to remember field boundaries on the single unit along with previous A/B lines. Users can also upgrade to implement auto section control.
Agricision sells the on-Trak box online, but also plans to establish a sales network. In particular, it has earmarked John Deer dealers since the Green Giant did away with its lightbar guidance systems early last year.
The on-Trak offers a different design of lightbar for those fed up with staring at a screen for the whole day. Fitting the box on the bonnet means it sits in the driver’s line of sight quite neatly.
During our trials with the on-Trak we used an iPhone as the in-cab interface but, because there’s no zoom function, wider implements fill the small screen and make it difficult to see when to turn for the next bout.
We reckon saving completed field boundaries to a storage platform would also be a useful addition to avoid recreating them on each device.
That said, it’s an ideal piece of kit for basic straight-line guidance and should pay for itself in no time.
- Simple to set up
- Quick changing between machines
- Easy to view lightbar
- Restricted view on iPhone
- No database to save maps
- Limited to Apple users
Grassland & Muck 2017
This year’s Grassland and Muck is the place to see all the latest developments in the world of farm machinery, including from some of the major players in the GPS sector.
Visitors can find out how to save cash by improving the accuracy of applications, as well as how to make the most of new, more sophisticated operating systems. Visit the Grassland & Muck website for more information.