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The world human population is growing. RCA was helping, helping, and will help get people food and drink.

(Source: Adobe Stock)

The full article is published in the March issue of CAN Newsletter 2022 magazine. This is just an excerpt.

Agriculture is the practice of growing plants and livestock. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago when humans began to settle: nomadic gatherers and hunters evolved into sedentary farmers, cattle herders and fishermen. In ancient high cultures, agricultural technology was developed to enable the construction of cities and monuments. Not everyone was involved in food production. There were a lot of workers and administrative staff.

Today, farmers have to feed about eight billion people. This can only be achieved using sophisticated technology, including electronically controlled and automated machinery. Smart farming is the buzzword: it has real potential to provide more productive and sustainable agricultural production, based on a more precise and resource-efficient approach. It includes agricultural automation and robotics, precision agriculture, and management information systems.

Isobus and its predecessors

Already before the invention of CAN, German engineers discussed and developed the LBS network approach (landwirtschaftliches Bussystem; engl. agriculture bus-system) for connecting electronic equipment to agricultural machinery. When CAN was introduced in 1986, the LBS specification adapted this serial network technology and standardized it in DIN 9684/2-5. But it was not flying due to technical issues regarding the physical layer specification. Additionally, the North American agricultural industry was in favor of CAN J1939-based networking technology, originally developed for commercial road vehicles. The result of the globally harmonized and joint development on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean is well known: Isobus, internationally standardized in the ISO 11783 series, is used worldwide to connect tractors and implements. Implements is the name for any type of attached machinery: sprayers, fertilizers, harvesters, etc.

One of the most important benefits is the development of the virtual terminal (VT) approach. It allows the truck mounted display to be used for all connected implements. The VT communicates via the CAN-based Isobus network with the implements. The farmer controls the implements via the VT and the implements provide status information to the VT The development of Isobus technology began in the mid-1990s. In 2001 the first machines using it arrived on European farms. Today there are many tools with an Isobus interface. The CAN Newsletter Online regularly reports on new product developments and progress of the ISO 11783 14-part series of standards.

Table: Overview of Isobus standards

Associations promoting Isobus

There are several associations that help promote the development and increase the interoperability of Isobus-based applications. The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) develops and publishes series of standards based on J1939 referenced by Isobus specifications. AEF (Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation) is the non-profit association that promotes and pre-develops Isobus protocols. AEF members work together on interoperability solutions. The foundation also tests and certifies devices in so-called Isobus plugfests. The CC-Isobus is a joint development activity of several tool manufacturers, who develop and supply a wide portfolio of VT products. Created in 2009, this competence center has, for example, designed the CC-I 1200 terminal, which has been installed more than 50,000 times. The DLG (German Agricultural Society) organizes the world’s largest Agritechnica fair in Hanover (Germany). The prizes, awarded by a committee of experts appointed by the DLG, recognize cutting-edge technologies and new developments in the field of agricultural equipment and machinery.

On-board machine control

Agricultural and forestry machines are heavily equipped with electronics. These include the Isobus backbone networks linking electronic control units (ECUs) and additional integrated CAN networks in sub-layers. Some of them use proprietary application layers, while others are based on J1939 or CANopen. As recent examples, Actia offers the SPU40-26 safety power unit with an interface compliant with ISO 11783, which has been certified and tested by the AEF. B-Plus offers a range of CAN and Isobus compatible development tools, measurement technology, as well as several controllers in its product portfolio. Bernecker + Reiner, Epec, ifm electronic, Intercontrol and STW supply host controllers with Isobus connectivity. They are linked via the CAN interface to the operator displays. Some of them support virtual terminal (VT) function.

Syslogic offers AI (artificial intelligence) PCs with a J1939 (FD) interface and Crosscontrol offers terminals with a CAN FD interface. These offer higher throughput than current proprietary Isobus or CAN interfaces. But some farmers prefer traditional tablets as the user interface. Such solutions are offered for example by Reichardt. Rugged on-board telematics tablets connectable to J1939 are offered by Waysion Technology, Zhangzhou Lilliput Electronic Technology and Ruggon.

TTControl’s HY-TTC 500 controller family with three CAN interfaces meets safety standards up to EN ISO 25119 Ag PLd, IEC 61508 SIL 2 and ISO 13849 PLd. The APC mobile 3100 from Bernecker + Reiner is a typical Isobus compatible works controller platform. The company’s X90 controller has a CANopen safety interface. This safety-related network can be used for internal machine control purposes.

The automated vehicle rewarded by Fendt and Braun (Source: Fendt/Braun)

Optimized tractor control: TIM

The TIM function (tractor implement management) allows the implement to send commands to the tractor. In this way, trailed machines can control functions such as the PTO shaft (PTO), hoisting gear, driving speed, steering angle or hydraulic valves. Thus, the combined machinery automatically adapts to the current situation, reducing the operator’s workload, increasing machine performance and productivity. Several tractor manufacturers already integrate the TIM into their vehicles and implements. Fendt, Krone, John Deere, Kubota (Kverneland), Lemken and Claas are just a few examples.

TIM was originally invented by John Deere and later developed by AEF. The first TIM solutions were presented at Agritechnica 2009. At that time, only machines from the same manufacturer could exchange data. With the release of the TIM version 2 specification, the implement sends information to the tractor via standardized and secure communication. Today it is a multi-product and multi-manufacturer solution, i.e. a tractor-implement combination from different manufacturers is possible. By using Isobus tested devices with TIM function (AEF certified), farmers expect the tractor and implement hitch to work plug-and-play.

Award-winning Isobus solutions

At Agritechnica in 2019, DLG rewarded several Isobus solutions. For example, the automated tractor and implement guidance system for vineyards, which was jointly developed by Fendt and Braun. The outline of the ground, vines, poles, etc. are recorded using laser technology and the information is transmitted to the tractor via the Isobus interface. Additionally, the 3D position is determined using a gyroscope and the tractor adopts implement tracking and guidance based on this information.

CNH Industrial’s New Holland global agricultural brand Isomax solution is an ISO 11783 series compliant hardware and software interface. All hardware components are AEF certified, all software is open source and the system is compatible with all brands. System features include automatic tool recognition for ease of use. In addition, Lemken’s IQblue renovation TIM solution was awarded. Deploying a GPS receiver, it allows users to automate agricultural machinery to plow, cultivate, plow, etc. Another winner was the Nevonex open Isobus platform powered by Bosch. As an operating system, it forms the basis of software applications for programming new and old machines. An integrated interface management allows optional access to the platform via the Isobus.

After entering the box, the robotic arm moves under the cow, scans it with lasers to find the teats and attaches four teat cups (Source: Lely)

From automation to autonomy

Autonomy has been creeping into tractors and other farm equipment for decades, with recent advances building on advances in robotics and self-driving cars. Advances in sensing, communication and control technologies associated with Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are allowing tractors to become automated, even autonomous. Autonomous tractors could help farmers save money and automate work threatened by a farm labor shortage. Data collected on soil and precision agriculture applications help improve productivity and optimize resource efficiency.

Increasing range requires additional sensors connected to CAN-based on-board networks. Typical examples include cameras, 3D sensors and GNSS systems. GNSS assisted steering systems are already used in everyday agricultural work. Thanks to real-time kinematics (RTK), intervention is no longer necessary when the farmer needs to align his tractor or other self-propelled machinery such as sprayers, mulchers and harvesters with the next track with an accuracy of two to three centimeters. Of course, the steering wheel must be driven by an electric motor. For example, Reichardt provides the PSR Advanced automatic steering system using GNSS, low-wear synthetic touch sensors and ultrasonic sensors. It includes an Isobus terminal as well as several panel applications and can be used for retrofit applications.

Self-guided tractors have been around for quite some time. Thus, the tractor does most of the work, with the farmer intervening in an emergency. The technology is moving towards driverless vehicles guided by GPS. Recently, John Deere already introduced the fully autonomous 8R tractor. Other tractor manufacturers should follow.

CAN on farms

CAN-based networks are integrated, and therefore invisible to “outsiders”, in many animal husbandry applications, for example in barns, pig farms and poultry houses. Already in the mid-1990s, CAN networks were used in barn carousels. They connected feeding equipment and devices that measured the amount of water the animals were taking. Today, service robots feed and serve animals with increasing autonomy.

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