Work Smarter and Faster in Full-Canopy Corn

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This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of CropLife magazine.

Radar technology “sees” rows, so operators don’t have to.

By Robin Siktberg, Custom Content Editor, Meister Media Worldwide

The ability to use an automated visual guidance system to drive through a full-canopy corn field – and do it faster with less damage – is no longer a pipe dream. It’s now reality. Coming fast on the heels of Raven’s new VSN® Visual Guidance System, Full Canopy guidance is a welcome addition to this platform.

Full Canopy guidance allows operators to use the full benefits of the VSN Visual Guidance System when the rows are hardest to see.

The VSN® Visual Guidance System, released in Spring 2020, allows equipment operators to drive through already-emerged crops with the aid of a camera connected to Raven’s RS1™ or SC1™ steering systems. The camera detects the rows and guides the machine along them, allowing the operator to spend more time watching for obstacles, plugged spray tips or relieve eyestrain by looking away from the row occasionally.

The only limitation was that corn needed to be between 4 inches tall and 90% full canopy.

The addition of Full Canopy guidance has closed that last gap, allowing operators to use the full benefits of the VSN Visual Guidance System when the rows are hardest to see.

“The Full Canopy technology has been well received by applicators who have been testing it with us,” says Nick Langerock, Sales and Marketing Manager at Raven. When driving through full-canopy corn, you can’t see the rows well, so you’re trying to predict where they are and avoid crop damage. It’s both mentally and visually fatiguing when you are doing this for hours. Full Canopy technology uses radar sensors to predict the rows and maintain a precise line, reducing strain on the driver and allowing him or her to manage other aspects of the machine and application.”

Another advantage of VSN Visual Guidance System is it aids more inexperienced drivers. With experienced operators in short supply, an extra tool that helps to prevent crop damage, equipment damage and allows faster coverage of the field is invaluable.

Full Canopy Allows Operators to be Proactive vs. Reactive

The core VSN Visual Guidance System uses a camera attached to the CAN bus on the machine and works with Raven’s RS1 or SC1 steering system. The RS1 is a GPS receiver autosteer solution with a Slingshot modem built into it. For pre-emergence crops, you would just use this standard system. Once plants are just a couple inches tall, you can begin to use VSN, and it is accurate all the way up to 90% canopy. By adding two radar sensors in the wheel area that beam outwards at a 45-degree angle up to 10 feet away, Raven engineers were able to expand the capabilities VSN.

“Full Canopy uses radar to detect multiple rows of corn stalks and provides a guidance line based on that information,” Langerock says. “Using multiple rows is a big advantage, because the row you’re in may have a washout or crop damage.”

A big difference between Full Canopy and other available technologies is the predictive abilities, Langerock says.

“Relying on mechanical feelers to trip when they touch the crop means you’re already too close to the row and have to fight back to the line,” he says. “Full Canopy radar sensors look out ahead and allow the machine to stay on the line proactively, rather than the driver being reactive.”

Working Faster and Smarter Means Excellent ROI

While reducing operator fatigue, and aiding more inexperienced drivers are already significant advantages, an additional benefit of the VSN Visual Guidance System is increased efficiency and ROI. Moving faster and smarter through the field with less crop damage means more acreage covered each day and happier customers.

“We are seeing an increase of about 20% in speed of operation,” Langerock says. “That means if an operator normally was able to go 12 miles per hour through a field, they can now go 18. And, they are doing it with less crop and equipment damage, because the accuracy is increased. Drivers can pay attention to obstacles and other problems in the field. Operators are able to get up to 18 mph in mature corn with Full Canopy, which is really impressive when you look at typical speeds.”

Full Canopy is an add-on to the VSN Visual Guidance System. The additional investment is not a large one.

The VSN Visual Guidance System is so well-liked by operators, Raven continues to add features to it. Coming this fall is AutoTurn™. This technology warns the operator to slow down, begins the turn, automatically finds the next set of rows, and accurately steers the machine down the next pass, eliminating missed rows, crop damage and overspray. Operators can look for obstacles along the boom as they are turning, instead of trying to find the next row.

“Raven continues to search for innovative ways to add features to the VSN Visual Guidance System that make it even more useful for operators,” Langerock says. “Full Canopy allows applicators to drive confidently through full-canopy corn with much less fatigue and at faster speeds than have been possible until now.”

How the VSN Visual Guidance System Works

The VSN system is designed to be user-friendly. In the cab, choose from five pre-set row spacings, and calibrate one time by selecting "Calibrate," and drive straight down the rows for about 300 feet. When the autosteer status icon turns green, engage autosteer. Standard VSN mode uses the camera connected to the Raven RS1 or SC1 steering system. If there is a washout or other interruption in the rows, VSN+ mode takes over, using a GPS guidance line through that area. Once the camera can recognize the rows again, it automatically kicks back to standard VSN mode.

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