Last year Leica Geosystems entered the U.S. precision farming market with the introduction of a no-drift autosteer guidance system. The system, called mojoRTK, provided position signal correction to third-party steering systems. (See “Online service tech,” May 2007, page 26.) The console is small enough to fit in the radio slot of a tractor, minimizing cab clutter.

What makes the product unique is a feature called the Virtual Wrench, the ag industry's first Web-based diagnostics and servicing tool. It allows service technicians to reach into any system from their computer miles away and fix problems remotely over the Internet. It is similar to OnStar.

Now Leica plans to expand the Virtual Wrench to provide an owner-operator with remote access to all facets of his farming operation. This new online service, yet to be named, will be tested this fall.

With the service, a producer can watch a farm operation run in real time from thousands of miles away while sitting in an office or pickup truck. The farmer can access the information from any computer or smart phone.

“It provides a wireless connection to one or more farms,” explains Darin Sothers, North American sales manager with Leica Geosystems. “The software used in the system allows you to visualize your farm site live and in 3-D and to communicate with assets in real time.”

Modem's in the mojoRTK

How is this done? Leica uses the same cell phone link that's built into the mojoRTK console to transfer the data and allow for two-way communications. Then remote access software on the Web site allows the operator to view and control software-enabled tasks or functions.

“The farmer owns the data,” Sothers says. “We are simply providing a means of transmitting all the data in real time from multiple mobile devices.”

From any location, the owner can access the data 24/7 from a laptop computer or screen simply by going to the Web site and entering a name and password. Once he has accessed the data, he can not only monitor the operations but send information to operators in the field.

This allows owners who do not live near their farm operations to monitor farm activities. They can simply go to the Internet site and view the activities that are going on in real time.

“It's a more advanced version of Virtual Wrench,” Sothers explains. “We've taken the technology we use to service our RTK platform and opened it up to the farmer to allow him to manage information.”

Such information management functions may include soil mapping, fleet management, asset tracking, human resources management, time management, inventory management, and vehicle tracking.

The service also allows the farm owner to share pertinent information with other members of his business team, such as a banker or agronomist. By working with the same information, all members of the team are better able to collaborate and make informed decisions.

No USB

Transferring and managing GIS data historically has been complex and tedious and often involved a delay.

“For example, today, if you want to do variable-rate application, you have to send out a disc or USB [Universal Serial Bus] to the driver, who would upload the prescriptions to the computer on board the tractor or sprayer,” Sothers says. “The online service allows two-way communications where the maps are sent to vehicles in the field in real time. So you eventually eliminate the USB.”

Wi Fi technology has allowed for wireless transfer between devices that are within a short (1,000-ft.) range. But Sothers says that range is not practical for most farms.

He says the new service will empower a farmer to be less dependent on precision farming experts. “You shouldn't need a Ph.D. to know how to transfer data or get into GIS,” Sothers says. “We're trying to make that process as easy as possible. It will be more automated than anything on the market today.”

Color-blind

Leica's online tool is designed to work with all brands of hardware, software and equipment. “We are color-blind as to what maps you use,” Sothers says.

It will allow the following activities:

  • Monitor all the activities that are taking place on a farming operation in 3-D and in real time

  • Monitor and track the location of all assets equipped with a GPS receiver (vehicles, fleets, seed and fertilizer inventories, crop inputs)

  • Monitor inventories

  • Dispatch trucks to vehicles in need of product refills or servicing for just-in-time inventories

  • Monitor the location of vehicles to ensure vehicles are in their designated locations

  • Micromanage farming operations

“We see this as a huge opportunity for growers, especially a grower with a large operation who may have multiple people working for him,” Sothers says. “He can monitor his staff or manage multiple fields in one location from his office.”

For more information, contact Leica Geosystems, Dept. FIN, 61 Inverness Dr. E., Suite 200, Englewood, CO 80112, 877/800-6656, visit www.leica-geosystems.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 101.