Equipment manufacturers and students gathered in Lincoln in May
TESTING CONNECTIONS: Equipment manufacturers and students gather in Lincoln, Neb., in May to test connections between various tractors and implements for different functions.

AEF takes on automation, machine-to-machine communication

Its newest data interface offers the next generation of wireless data transfer between machines and even cloud systems.

ISO11783, more commonly known as the ISOBUS standard, traces its origins back to the early days of CANBUS connectivity between various tractors and implements, and the need for an international standard for communications between different ag equipment.

Since the early days, ISOBUS conformance and conformance tests by the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF) has always focused on this intercommunication between tractors and various implements. It still is, but that intercommunication is being taken to a new level.

At the recent Plugfest, held by AEF in Lincoln, Neb., Peter van der Vlugt, AEF chairman and chief technology officer of mechatronics at Kverneland Group (a subsidiary of Kubota) in The Netherlands, noted seamless, wireless transfer of data is one such area.

As the amount of data collected by the planter, sprayer, toolbar or combine continues to grow, it's no longer ideal to carry data from one machine to another — or from machine to FMIS (farm management information systems).

Many manufacturers have addressed this issue with their own proprietary portals, and in 2017, AEF launched its FMIS conformance test to encourage seamless, universal data transfer between different machines and software.

Now, one of the projects in the works at AEF is creating an EFDI — Extended FMIS Data Interface — the next generation of wireless transfer of data between machines and even cloud systems.

One of the first use cases, Van der Vlugt said, is using EFDI to communicate between machines in the field. "When machines have a wireless gateway, they can talk to other machines in the same field. One example could be you share your coverage data with another machine," he said. "We are also looking at whether EFDI may be used for cloud-to-cloud communication. Since EFDI is being developed relatively generically, it might be applicable for cloud-to-cloud communication."

Many manufacturers already have proprietary wireless communications between machines through their respective OEM portals, and Van der Vlugt adds EFDI probably won't replace those communication links — the goal is simply allowing those machines to talk with machines from other brands.

There's also potential to use this universal telematics communication for running diagnostics on different machines. "These remote diagnostics through telematics may be a way for customers to trust multibrand machines. That will allow customers to not rely on close connections to a dealer," said Marcello Mongiardo, electronic systems director at CNH Industrial in Italy and AEF vice chairman.

Rural connectivity challenge
Lack of cellular connectivity is a common challenge for machine-to-machine communication in rural areas.

"That's why we shouldn't rely on [cellular network] infrastructure for machine to machine," Mongiardo said. "As a very long-term vision, there is a lot of talk in Europe about whether 5G is coming. That will eventually be a big opportunity. Right now, it's a bit too far ahead in time."

However, until 5G is available, it will be necessary to use real-time wireless communications. There may already be standards to facilitate this communication. For example, 802.11p is a standard used for vehicle-to-vehicle communication in the automotive industry, and there may be potential to use this same standard for machine-to-machine, and eventually, machine-to-automobile communication.

"We have to be careful not to define and write everything ourselves when there are standards out there. IEEE 802.11p is a nice example of a standard used in automotive. It's a well-established protocol for car-to-car communication with real-time possibilities. So why not use it in our domain?" Van der Vlugt asked. "The benefit of this approach is we can not only use it for our own machine-to-machine communication, but with other vertical domains with cars on the road, and maybe with roadside infrastructure."

AEF is also looking at potential to use this communication as a safety feature to help avoid collisions between ag equipment and automobiles, and is working with the European Telecommunications Standard Institute (ETSI) to use this already defined standard.

"Say a tractor is going to go from a field into a road. The operator could turn on this system, and it would actually send out a beacon signal to cars that are so-equipped, like smart cars, that would actually warn cars that there's a slow-moving vehicle ahead," said Mark Benishek AEM technical director, based in Milwaukee. "That's a project that's currently in development."

However, it will likely be at least three years before this kind of machine-to-machine, or machine-to-automobile communication is practical.

Automation between tractor, implement
AEF is also working on automated functions like Tractor Implement Management (TIM). This involves universal communication between different brands of implements and tractors, so that the implement can control the tractor.

Here's how it works: If a tractor from one brand is pulling a round baler from another, the baler would command the tractor to come to a controlled stop when the bale is ready — without the operator braking. After the baler wraps the bale, it automatically raises the tailgate and releases the bale, before closing the tailgate again. Then, the baler commands the tractor to resume driving at a set speed.

"We'll avoid repetitive actions. Instead of the operator doing the same operation for each bale over a day, the machine will take care of that — and improve the efficiency as well," Mongiardo said. "The other advantage is the fact that certain customers would like to drive themselves and make adjustments manually. However, in certain cases, you are not the only driver, and if you want to take a non-expert driver, you can easily set up your machine, and the machine will improve quality of operation for a non-expert."

While companies are still testing models in Plugfests around the world, AEF hopes to have testable machine combination prototypes in the field by sometime in 2019.

The biggest step between now and then involves authentication to ensure the two machines can work together, and to ensure the process works smoothly, safely, and securely. At the moment, the only TIM solutions available are proprietary to manufacturers. To allow mixed-brand TIM operations, AEF has developed a process to authenticate different machines to match them up with one another and unlock TIM functions. This includes using various certificates linked to data from conformance test results conducted at Plugfests around the world, and results from tests like those at the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory.

"This goes back to the question of 'Why can't this tractor work with an attachment from a different brand?' That's why AEF was established in the beginning," Benishek said. "Now we're taking it one step further. At the end of the day, we're trying to make sure all the implements and tractors with newer technology still work together."

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