Le 29/06/2023

Q&A with Andrew Olliver, AEF Chairman / Global Precision Technology Partner Manager – CNHi

ISOBUS is an international communication protocol that sets the standard for agriculture electronics. It allows communication between sensors, actuators and controllers, enabling with this standard the exchange of data between tractors, implements and onboard controllers of different brands.

AEF works to improve cross-manufacturer compatibility of electronic and electric components and to establish transparency about compatibility issues. How does it go about doing this?

Andrew Olliver, AEF Chairman / Global Precision Technology Partner Manager – CNHi

Andrew Olliver: Our membership is made up of all the main agricultural equipment manufacturers. They voluntarily participate in AEF working teams who investigate problems with electronic compatibility on the ISOBUS, the common CANBUS, which runs between tractors and implements. Then we come up with solutions which are documented in AEF guidelines for all our members to use so that they can develop ISOBUS products which do work with each other.

Initially, we were focusing specifically on ISOBUS compatibility, but now we're also branching out into other areas such as high-speed communication between tractors and implements, wireless in-field communication between machines from different OEMS, and also a standardized way of connecting ag data clouds together which we call the Agricultural Interoperability Network (AgIN).

What is the current state of compatibility with respect to electronic equipment in the ag industry?

[Compatibility is] a market-by-market situation and it really depends on where you are in the world. In some parts of the world, the tractors and implements are always coming from different manufacturers and so compatibility on the ISOBUS is absolutely necessary otherwise farmers would not be able to farm.

The AEF has developed a conformance test which tests electronic components for compatibility on the ISOBUS. It certifies that not only are products in conformance with the ISO 11783 standard, but also the relevant AEF guidelines. AEF certification guarantees that the product is compatible on the ISOBUS, in other words, it is guaranteed to work with other AEF-certified products.

AEF PIC Plugfest Orlando 2023-03 @AEF

What are the main compatibility challenges AEF is working to overcome right now?

The main compatibility challenges for the AEF right now are related to the task controller functionalities: TC-BAS (Basic), TC-SC (Section Control) and TC-GEO.

The task controller can be considered the precision farming part of the ISOBUS. It enables the automatic control of what the implement is planting, spreading or spraying in which part of the field by loading an application map into the (tractor) display. It can automatically switch application sections on and off based on overlap and it automatically records what work has been done in the field too.

Sometimes there are problems where the implement is not automatically controlled by the Task Controller (software) on the (tractor) display. In other cases, there are compatibility problems with the application map - it cannot be loaded into the display as it was not created in the right format.

Thankfully, the AEF conformance test does test for all three Task Controller Functionalities, as well as the Farm Management Information Systems (FMIS) which are used to create the application maps. They can now also be certified by the AEF Conformance Test for the TC-BAS and TC-GEO functionalities.

We are continuing to grow awareness of the AEF Conformance Test to bring even more companies into the fold.

What are some of the ways AEF has succeeded in helping to improve compatibility?

AO: One of the first tasks was to make the ISOBUS subject easier to understand for the whole industry, so the AEF developed the Functionality Concept. ISOBUS Functionalities help you understand exactly what you can do with an ISOBUS product.

Then we developed the AEF Conformance Test so that ISOBUS products could be certified for their specific functionalities, such as the Task Controller mentioned above. Remember, certification is a sign of compatibility on the ISOBUS. It is also worth noting that the Conformance Test is constantly evolving and we are in the final stages of updating the Conformance Test for the latest generation of the UT (Universal Terminal) Functionality.

We have also developed the AEF ISOBUS Database that farmers, dealers, and manufacturing staff can access so they can look up any certified ISOBUS product to understand what functionality it has. Not only can you look up single products, but you can also look up multiple products to see what the combined functionalities are. In other words what you can do when these products are connected on the ISOBUS! Imagine if you are a farmer and you are looking for a new tractor, but you want to make sure that it will work with the ISOBUS implement that you have in the yard. The answer can be found in the AEF ISOBUS database.

Finally, we have Plugfests twice a year; once in the US, and then once in Europe. In March we had the Plugfest alongside the Commodity Classic in Orlando, Florida. Then in September, the next Plugfest will be held in Antibes, France. Plugfests are a three-day event for manufacturers of ISOBUS components to meet andtest for compatibility. From the development point of view, it’s a fantastic opportunity to be able to check ISOBUS compatibility with so many different OEMs in such a short time.

How can we make robots and farm equipment communicate well?

AO: It mostly revolves around the Task Controller functionalities. Typically, the tractor/implement combination are working in the field and the Task Controller is automatically controlling the implement and recording the work being done. This task data is saved in an ISO XML file, and it's the ISO XML file which allows the farmer to see what work has been done with that equipment throughout the day.

One way to make robots and farm equipment communicate would be for robots to start saving their data, or at least make the data available to the farmers, in this ISO XML file format. This will allow the farmer to save the field data in one place, no matter if it was a tractor/implement combination or an autonomous machine working.

Now if the field data from the robot is already up in the cloud, then the robot manufacturer should be looking at a standardized way to get that data out of the robot cloud and into the FMIS cloud which is used by the farmer. 

What needs to be done to improve communication in farm robotics and other equipment? How does compatibility play into this equation?

Start collaborating with existing industry groups that work on compatibility, such as the AEF. The AEF project team AgIN is actually working on standardized communication between ag clouds and additional participants are always welcome.

Also the AEF Wireless Infield Communication team is working on standardized communication between machines of different manufacturers working together in the same field and more participants are welcome here too.

What are the main benefits of having robots and equipment that communicate well? How does this impact farmers and equipment users?

The farmer has a crop in the field and they know what they need to do to grow it, harvest it, and sell it. They want to farm that field in the most economical but also environmentally-friendly way.

Farmers just want to do the best job possible for the land, for themselves, and for future generations. Whether the equipment is manned, unmanned, or a mix, they just want the equipment to work together to do the job.

So, the main benefits of having robots and existing farm equipment communicate is to provide one solution for the farmer, but at the same time, it's going to give the robotics companies the greater chance of success.

In the same way that we have mixed fleets on our farms today, tractors and implements coming from different manufacturers, farmers will have mixed fleets which start including robots. There might be one robot from one company, another robot from another company, and in the middle there might be a tractor and an implement all working in the same field.

The sooner we can work on the compatibility between the manned fleet and the unmanned fleet so that the farmer can get the job done in the best possible way with the least disruptions, the better.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or think I missed on this topic?

Yes, the Tractor Implement Management (TIM) functionality. For some of the robot equipment manufacturers, they might find they can get to market quicker, or be more successful, by developing an implement that can work with a TIM tractor. The TIM tractor still needs to have a driver in it, but at the same time, the robot manufacturer is getting their equipment out there in the form of a very smart (TIM) implement allowing them to get into the market,get time in the field, andget a name for themselves.

Also, robotics manufacturers should become AEF members if they want to participate in AEF project teams. By becoming an AEF member, not only do you get to volunteer some time for the project team, but you get to influence the development of guidelines and standards for the whole agriculture industry.

Categories : #Labs
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