Launched at this year’s Lamma Show, Agrision’s onTrak guidance system is designed to be an entry-level product with simple operation.
Richard Bradley tests it out.
Whether you rely on good judgement, marker posts or foam bout markers, keeping a machine in a straight line and at a consistent width is not always as easy as it sounds.
While it may not seem an issue for some users, accuracy is becoming ever more important when applying costly fertilisers and sprays.
For farmers and contractors working big acreages this is often overcome by running tractors or self-propelled machinery with automatic steering systems, driven by a global GPS or a more accurate real-time kinematics (RTK) receiver on the cab roof.
Now widely available as a factory fitment, a number of manufacturers also offer auto steering systems as a retro-fitable package for new and old machines alike. However, one major stumbling block is the up-front cost to purchase these high-accuracy systems, especially for farmers only carrying out their own duties.
To combat this issue, firms also offer entry-level systems which use similar GPS signals, but instead of steering the tractor itself, generally use a screen and light-bar to direct the driver onto each run of the field and to maintain a relatively straight path.
One firm which is going about this challenge a little different is Agricision, which aims to utilise a farmer’s Apple device with an app-based system. Along with a mobile or tablet, the onTrak system uses a bonnet-mounted light bar to inform the driver of required steering inputs to keep on the straight and narrow.
Not limited to fertiliser spreading, tasks could range from spraying, to maintaining straight runs when opening up with a mower, slug pelleting with a quadbike, or even minimising overlaps when rolling.
To see how this supposedly simple system performs, we put it to work on a tractor born in an era when auto steering had not become mainstream, a New Holland TS115.
One beauty of the onTrak system is the ability to quickly and easily move it from machine to machine.
The bonnet-mounted element of the system can be installed in a matter of seconds, and retains the majority of hardware, with LED light bar, receiver, accelerometers and Bluetooth transmitter all housed inside its neat-looking plastic casing. To suit its outdoor environment, the receiver is weather-proof and features a rechargeable battery offering 24hours operating time.
LEDs can be dimmed for night-time work, and the receiver pairs to your device via Bluetooth in a matter of seconds.
Ideally suited to tractors running with metal bonnets, the receiver features four magnetic feet to adhere itself to the bonnet, placing the light bar in the operators line of sight. For plastic-hooded tractors, the firm supplies the receiver with a number of magnetic discs, to stick on the inside of the bonnet.
With either mounting option, the receiver did not budge even when submitted to several trips down farm tracks.
Unlike other light bar systems on the market where the light bar is mounted inside the cab, the onTrak’s position allows you to easily shift your focus from the field ahead to the LEDs. This has a bigger impact than you may think, as not having to stare at a screen in the cab for hours on end makes a day’s work much less taxing.
Set up and control of the system can be done via the free onTrak app used through an iPhone or iPad.
While Agricision says it has looked into extending the software to be available on Android devices, the processing power required causes complications, and a list of suitable devices may be required.
Adding simplicity for users, any future updates are downloaded via the app-store, with required software then transmitted to the receiver via Bluetooth. The manufacturer says this allows for quick fixes to issues as and when they are discovered.
While an iPhone provides easy operation, the iPad's larger screen makes things easier when turning at headlands.
Once the app is fired up on the phone or tablet, it quickly connects to the receiver via Bluetooth. The app features a clear layout, which is simple to navigate, even for the technology-wary user.
Inputting machine settings is also simple, with only adjustment to working width and light bar sensitivity available, distance and area units can also be changed. All settings are managed through a single menu level, preventing you from getting lost in multiple menu layers.
Via the use of three buttons, you can be off recording your field boundary, or setting an A-B line to bring up the guidance paths for the field. Once you return to your starting point having finished recording a boundary, one further button saves the boundary and informs you of the total field area.
Each field and it’s A-B line can then be saved to the device and recalled for future use.
By tapping anywhere on the screen, the system begins or stops recording the area you are working, which virtually colours in and totals up the worked area of the field. While not only handy to see where you have already spread, this also allows you to see where you are overlapping on short work and should help to further reduce wastage.
Tested both on a 9.7inch iPad and a much smaller screened iPhone 5, the system performs well with little issues.
The screen allows you to clearly see the next guidance line, where you have already covered, and also provides a proper touch screen, handy when trying to fill in field names, something which can be rather tricky on other systems.
Screen gives a good overview of the field, with information such as signal strength, width, speed and worked area along the top. Note: overlapping and missing to avoid wet patches!
Following the light bar down the field with its seven lights (three red to either side of one green) indicating whether you are bang on the money, or if you should be making corrections to minimise potential overlap.
If for any reason you may need to shift guidance paths, a button allows them to be re-centred to your position.
Running at speeds around 15kph and spreading at a 12m width, we set the light bar’s sensitivity around the middle of its scale, which left an easy to follow path with little visible overlapping.
For lower speed and narrower applications, increasing sensitivity may be advised, as the red lights will come up sooner to indicate required steering correction.
Despite limited features, the onTrak system is a tool which should quickly pay for itself in cost savings simply by applying chemicals and fertilisers more accurately.
In terms of operation, the included instructions tell you all you need to know how to use the system to its full potential. While other light bar systems may offer further features with advanced guidance paths, offsetting implements and the option of adding auto steering, Agricision’s offering suits a wide variety.
At £675+VAT, it is also one of the cheapest options available.