Visual Guidance System Lets Operators Cover More Ground With Less Worry

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This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of CropLife magazine.

By Robin Siktberg, Custom Content Editor, Meister Media Worldwide

Reduced driver fatigue, increased productivity, and minimizing crop damage are benefits of the soon-to-be-released Raven VSN™ Visual Guidance System for post-emerge crops. While standard GPS-guided steering has been in use for years, VSN offers a visual guidance component through already-emerged row crops. The system allows operators to go faster, meaning more acres covered in a day, but without increasing the risk of crop damage. One of the biggest benefits, however, is allowing drivers relief from constantly focusing on the rows ahead so they can pay more attention to the machine and field conditions.

“One operator I talked to compared rowing crops to driving down the interstate for four hours on a glare of ice during a blizzard,” says Josh Crimmins, account manager at Raven. “When you’re rowing crops, the only thing you’re able to pay attention to is not running over the crop.”

Drivers Can Pay Attention to Machine and Surroundings

Crimmins says a driver may be unaware of a plugged tip or a tile inlet that may have hit the boom. With VSN, drivers are able to focus on details like that to ensure better accuracy in spraying and less machine damage.

Several beta testers for the system were long-time veteran operators, and they reported feeling less taxed at the end of the day.

“Drivers can breathe a little bit,” Crimmins says. “They can now check in with their dispatcher or communicate with a tender truck, rather than the only focus being keeping off the crop.”

Because of the ability to keep an eye out for waterways, tile blowouts, or other obstacles, operators can run faster; most testers were going three to four miles per hour faster than their usual speed without VSN.

“If you gain four miles per hour on a 120-foot boom, it’s an increase of more than 50 acres per hour,” Crimmins says. “The gain in productivity will be variable, obviously, but combined with less wear and tear on the machine and less operator fatigue, it’s really a win for everyone.”

Easy to Operate

Any machine with a Raven RS1™ or SC1™ steering system is ready to use with the VSN Visual Guidance System, which uses a camera attached to the CAN bus on the machine.

The RS1 is a GPS receiver autosteer solution with a Slingshot modem built in to it. For pre-emergence crops, you would just use this standard system. Once the crops are four inches tall, you can begin to use VSN, and it is accurate all the way up to 90% canopy.

Calibration is simple, Crimmins says. Choose from five pre-set rows spacings, select “calibrate” and drive straight down the rows for about 300 feet. Around that distance, the autosteer status icon turns green, and at that point you engage autosteer.

“We have regular VSN mode, which uses the camera and follows the rows,” says Crimmins. “We also have VSN+, which will use “Visual guidance” to follow the rows unless it can’t see them — for instance, if there’s a waterway. In those cases, VSN+ kicks back to a GPS guidance line through that area and gets back on the rows once it recognizesthem again.”

Crimmins says the Row Detection Quality threshold in VSN+ is set to a minimum of 50% by default. If the camera doesn’t see the rows with 50% confidence, the system defaults back to GPS autosteer, or in the case of VSN, it defaults to manual steering.

VSN+ will also use the GPS guidance line to help you turn into the rows at the right spot in the next pass. Once it sees the rows again, the VSN guidance through the camera will kick back on automatically.

Drivers are able to see what rows the camera is seeing and how it is following them through live video row overlays, Crimmins says. VSN requires no maintenance, because it is powered through the RS1 or SC1 steering systems. It can be updated wirelessly through those systems, as well.

VSN has been tested on corn, soybeans, cotton, and sorghum, Crimmins says. It was introduced to the market for preorder in August 2019 and will be fully released in Spring 2020.

“This is huge for row cropping” — Jason Bolsen, Nutrien Ag Solutions

“I was suprised it was so simple,” says Jason Bolsen, operator/applicator for Nutrien Ag Solutions in Cerra Gordo, IL, when asked about his experience with using the VSN Visual Guidance System.

“It was effortless. You pulled into a row and went five feet, hit the button and pretty much didn’t worry about it until you got to the other end.”

Bolsen, a 24-year veteran of row cropping, says the VSN system is a major improvement.

“This is huge for row cropping; it’s just as big of a jump as was the plain [GPS-guided] system was when it came out,” Bolsen says. “It’s so much easier on the operator. At the end of the day, you’re not as fatigued, and you can pay more attention to your tips and obstacles in the field. It helps you keep your boom out of the dirt and your equipment off the crop.”

Reducing the possibility of crop damage takes away a huge amount of stress for the operator, and it will please farmers, as well. Bolsen says his manager got a call from a grower who didn’t think Bolsen had sprayed his field that day, because nothing was damaged. Bolsen has already recommended that his manager purchase the system for all the operators.

“To have a system work and drive down the row for you this nice is just great,” Bolsen says. “It made my life this summer so much easier.”