Monitor combines guidance and live video
By John Dietz
Growers should have seen this one coming: auto-steer has become mainstream in modern farming. Digital camera technology has become professional in quality and mainstream for consumers. In February 2010, this digital marriage was announced by TeeJet Technologies with a cab monitor called Matrix.
According to TeeJet, Matrix is the new driver’s interface for its FieldPilot auto-steering system. FieldPilot with Matrix Guidance can be installed on old or new tractors. Approximately 275 different vehicle kits are available.
Matrix links the benefit of guidance with live video. A video camera overhead or pointed forward feeds into the monitor. On the monitor, the driver can select “RealView Guidance Over Video” to have Matrix display the actual path it is following on the live video of the field ahead.
However, drivers can do more than watch what is ahead in the path the system is planning to follow for seeding, spraying, swathing or harvesting. By adding a video input module to Matrix, drivers can use additional cameras mounted on the equipment to watch what is happening while they are driving. Matrix will toggle the video screen to include live video feeds from up to eight video cameras.
And, it does not require daylight. The video camera switches to night vision when it gets dark outside. It also has infrared vision. Inside a black building or closed seed tank, it switches automatically to infrared and picks up virtually all the visual details one might expect in full daylight.
Matrix console screens come in two sizes. Both the 5.7-inch screen and the 8.4-inch screen can handle eight cameras and offers a split-screen, four-camera view. These are high-resolution, bright screens for tough lighting conditions, and are equipped with touchscreen controls.
An early adapter of the new technology is James Rybka, a grower from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Rybka seeds about 4000 acres and is a member of a close-knit benchmarking group that compares detailed management experiences. Checking out the option for Matrix RealView guidance was on his fall to-do list. “I tried it out in late October,” he says. “RealView is a nice option so that you see the actual field instead of a digital image.”
The reason he upgraded to Matrix was a little different than the marketing promotes, but is right in line with what other early adapters are doing, according to dealers. “My tractor looks like the cockpit of an airliner. If I could get rid of some screens, it would be nice,” Rybka says. “Where I do use them (cameras) they’ve made a huge difference.”
His 100-foot-long seeding train has the tractor, air cart for seed, a 60-foot no-till drill, and a second air cart for dry fertilizer. He needs to know what is happening in each air tank and with the drill. He also needs to see who or what is behind when he is on the road with his system.
Without Matrix during the 2010 seeding season, he was watching four to five screens and cameras as well as LED tractor electronics. He plans to eliminate some of the screens and view video output from the cameras through his Matrix guidance system for 2011. Farmers like Rybka have been using video cameras for a few years. The cameras, in general, are becoming better, more affordable and available from more sources. “Infrared does work,” Rybka says. “I’ve turned the lights off totally on the back of the drill and that thing does work. You put it into a pitch-black setting and you can see exactly your level of your product. It’s amazing. They’re making this technology for camera systems now pretty inexpensive to buy, so you can hook up multiple cameras. You can put it into older vehicles, wherever you want. For $800 you can buy a screen with three cameras, and they’re pretty awesome.”
Inside the closed and dark tank on the air cart, infrared video gives him confidence about the seed or dry fertilizer supply that is remaining. He says, “We use cameras instead of bin depth sensors on the different compartments in the air drill. It’s more accurate, and I also use it for depth monitoring on the drill itself, to see just what’s going on behind there. ”
He also sees at least three uses for live video on combines. “Some guys are putting cameras into the sieve area to look at how the grain is distributing. Some are putting them on the unload auger to watch dumping into carts. Behind the combine, I can place a camera to monitor when I tow the straight-cut header.”
TeeJet Technology saw the opportunity and developed a product for the marriage of GPS and live video, says Greg Derksen, Western Canada sales manager, from Langham, Saskatchewan. “There are a lot of agricultural video systems. Our take on it, adding it to our GPS guidance, is new. The ability to use that camera pointed forward from the cab, and overlaying the video on my guidance screen, is new and exclusive to us. For a farmer, it feels more natural to view guidance lines over a real video scene than guidance on an animated screen,” he says.
Derksen adds, “The ability to see what you’re actually moving through and apply the guidelines over the top of that, we thought might be very unique, and it is. It also would be another way for a farmer to choose to see how he’s steering or guiding his way through the field in real time.”
TeeJet built maximum flexibility into its Matrix systems to suit the widest possible range of users. In the simplest format, the Matrix kit can be used with an old tractor and manual guidance. Matrix will generate GPS guidance lines on the monitor and overlay this with the RealView video from the kit camera.
Or the TeeJet FieldPilot automatic steering kit can do the steering. Or a splitter module can be added to the back of Matrix, enabling it to connect with four or eight video feeds. The video feeds normally are wired directly to the new camera installation, but some cameras provide a wireless signal. Cameras, and the installation kits, also are quite varied. Additional options for Matrix include upgraded GPS signals, automatic boom section control and tilt compensation.
AGCO dealer, AgWorld Equipment, based in Kinistino, Saskatchewan, saw many Matrix systems purchased in 2010. The selling point, says general manager Jonathan Cook, is the dual-purpose monitor. It can display guidance, live video or both at the same time. “The video is great. It allows you to monitor multiple points while having assisted steering control and sprayer/fertilizer sectional control. By toggling back and forth, you can monitor something and still see your guidance screen. And, this can all be done at a more affordable price” says Cook. “For me, the biggest thing is the fact that you can monitor multiple points on a single console while in guidance mode. The guidance screen applies over the top. You can turn it on, turn it off, or go full video. When you want to see guidance lines on the screen, this is an advantage. If your auto-steer is running, the video over guidance may not be needed. Now, once you are locked on your line, you can focus on the video. Video allows you to monitor machine performance more closely, and it’s great for safety. It’s a real safety improvement for towing large implements from field to field.”