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Actisense's NGW-1 device Courtesy of Actisense
THE LINK: This NGW-1 device allows modern tools used to manage tractor and combine data compatible with older GPS antennas and other systems on the machine.

Communication paramount with latest ag tech

Onboard linkages to farm systems can be a challenge. Here's the story of how one company found another with a solution.

Many say the secret of success in any union is communication. In precision agriculture, that may be truer than ever. Varied legacy systems on the farm can challenge your ability to move data from machine to office, or from machine to machine. That’s the challenge The Climate Corporation faced when trying to link its FieldView platform with a legacy GPS antenna.

The story is really about communication standards and how they change. The problem Climate Corp. engineers had was getting GPS information out of an older system. “Essentially, Climate had a problem with a Trimble GPS antenna,” says Philip Whitehurst, CEO, Actisense. “The Trimble unit uses the NMEA 0183 communication standard.”

It sounds like jargon, but the NMEA standard is a marine-based communication system that is robust for GPS use. (NMEA stands for National Marine Electronics Association, a worldwide organization.) The challenge is that this standard doesn’t play at all with CANBUS on a machine, which limits the ability for the FieldView interface to get GPS data over that onboard network.

Enter Actisense. “Climate came to us,” Whitehurst recalls. “We’ve long worked in the marine industry, and we have a product — NGW-1 — that can link older tools to the NMEA 2000 standard, which can communicate over the CANBUS.”

Whitehurst explains that the NMEA 2000 standard was developed a few years ago and adopted by agri-tech firms for navigation, data transfer and even capturing sensor data. But Whitehurst notes the Trimble GPS uses the other standard, and it is a robust tool farmers can rely on. The key was getting that GPS information into the FieldView system.

Farmers familiar with the Climate Corp. FieldView system know it can collect data and display information ranging from planting density to spray rates and harvested yield information while producing geospatial maps. It could receive data from the older-standard GPS system, but could not communicate data back to the GPS devices using the NMEA 0183 standard.

The NGW-1 NMEA 2000 Gateway is a plug-and-play device that allows for bidirectional communications. This allows the Climate Corp. FieldView system to both read and map information from all connected devices on the tractor or combine.

Plug and play

The CANBUS — or controller area network — on a tractor or combine has been in use for more than a decade. Essentially an onboard computer network, any sensor linked to the CANBUS is providing information that can be read by the FieldView Drive. But the older-standard GPS antennas don’t use the CANBUS to share information.

Linking the NGW-1 from Actisense, Climate Corp. was able to solve a communication problem and keep those reliable GPS antennas in use. That’s a money saver for the farmer, too, since the GPS antenna doesn’t need an upgrade.

Actisense isn’t an ag company, and Whitehurst jokes that the company, long a player in the marine industry, didn't even know that the term “ISOBUS” was used in agriculture. “We use NMEA 2000 or J1939 communication standards. We didn’t realize at the time agriculture used ISOBUS,” he says.

The key is the Actisense tool helps legacy machines use the latest FieldView tool to track data. “There’s a huge aftermarket of older equipment that can benefit from this tool,” Whitehurst says.

Actisense also has another product that may be of interest to machine developers. Called the W2K-1, it was originally created for the marine market to get information from the boat. But the system can do onboard data logging with its memory card. “You can do deep-level analysis of what’s going on in that framework connected to the W2K,” Whitehurst says. “It’s a very sophisticated data recorder. It’s a good tool for engineers.”

For now, the NGW-1 is the tool farmers may see if they have a FieldView system and an older GPS antenna. If you’d like more information about the Actisense NMEA 2000-compliant tool, visit


TAGS: Business
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