This is a tale of two cabs. One, a prototype that shows what could be. The other, a new option to be available soon in the United States. Both show how engineers are innovating the operator experience in new ways, including the end of the steering wheel.
The cab as office
Sitting on an elevated platform in a “future of farming” exhibit at the John Deere stand at the Agritechnica farm show this fall was the office-cab of the future. As an operator sits in the seat, a massive monitor rises up into an easy viewing position.
“From here, a farmer can run his operation,” says Jake Flanders, product manager, John Deere. Flanders, who had a hand in the design of the cab for the new 8R Series of tractors, walked through the many features of the cab of the future.
Above the windshield is a panoramic series of monitors that can be customized to show a range of information, including weather, tractor operation and more. The main monitor in front of the operator is a link to other services.
Say a farmer needed a drone to fly over a specific field to check conditions. In this future environment, it’s just a matter of dispatching the drone from the “nest” provided. That, too, was on display. The monitor can show drone progress as well as a map of the entire operation, where telemetry from other machines is shown.
“You can manage a range of tasks from the tractor seat,” Flanders says. “You can reply to requests and keep things moving.”
With autosteering standard on most larger tractors, this kind of environment almost makes sense. Today, growers are bringing tablets and other monitors into the cab to manage different parts of the operation. This cab just pulls it all together.
The unique center monitor, which for this prototype has a frame milled from solid aluminum, is the showcase system. It gives a big-picture look at the operation, but can also pull in camera views from the front, side and rear of the tractor you’re “driving.”
The prototype simulation offers a look at some of the ideas engineers are considering. The cab becomes an operating base, even as the machine does work with you aboard. Flanders shared other insights in the video below.
Bye-bye, steering wheel
The Deere concept cab was steering wheel-free, but IdealDrive from Agco is the real thing. The new optional feature for the Fendt Ideal combine offers ultimate visibility of the feeder house and wider heads, without craning your neck over a steering column.
NEW OPERATOR STATION: IdealDrive from Fendt is real. The joystick on the left side of the seat does the steering. The new tech will be available for order in Europe and the United States in 2020 for harvest 2021. It opens up the operator's view to the feeder house and combine head.
Instead, the machine has a joystick on the left side for steering. The familiar controls for the rest of the combine’s operations remain at the right.
Big machines have long been “fly by wire,” with steering wheels sending electronic signals to localized steering motors (not all, but many larger machines are). Moving the steering chores from a familiar wheel position up front to a joystick on the left is at first a wiring issue.
But Konstantin Stahl, team lead of program management, Fendt, explains that the electronic control is more precise than that. “When the combine is in transport mode, the steering is more constrained,” he says.
Profiling the steering capability based on speed and task makes sense. Moving at 25 mph down the road, a user doesn't want loose steering. With the joystick in a “tighter” transport mode, it’s easier to control the machine.
Stahl adds that in the field, the joystick offers a significant advantage on end-row turns. “With the joystick, you can make a full 180-degree turn in two seconds; you couldn’t do that spinning a steering wheel four or five times” he says. “That will reduce operator fatigue.”
The joystick is an unfamiliar operating idea, even to Generation Z youngsters who play video games. Yet Stahl explains that in tests, it takes an experienced combine operator about five to eight minutes to get used to the new way of steering. The IdealDrive is being released in limited form for 2020, and farmers are expressing interest in the new approach.
Visibility in a steering wheel-free cab is dramatic. Sitting in the cab is a totally new experience. The Fendt Ideal 10 can be ordered in the United States in July 2020 for the 2021 harvest season. And farmers can see this new cab up close if they attend Commodity Classic in 2020.