The Universal Terminal

The Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF) seeks common ground between electronic component manufacturers and OEMs and acts as the “round table” for ideas and shared goals to ultimately benefit the end user.

Incompatible equipment combinations are hampering the breakthrough of useful electronics applications.
Incompatible equipment combinations are hampering the breakthrough of useful electronics applications.

Electronics are the decisive innovation driver in agricultural engineering today, yet the inadequate compatibility between tractors and attached implements often leads to frustration for many farmers when these innovations cannot or will not work together in an easy-to-apply application. Only when manufacturers work toward compatibility through the use of standardized systems can they deliver combinations of equipment that will work properly together to achieve the farmer’s expectations.

ISOBUS (ISO 11783) is a worldwide standard that specifies a protocol for communication primarily between tractors and attached implements, but also for the data transfer between these mobile systems and the farm office software. Though some parts of the standard are yet to be defined, the standardization of the interface between the tractor and the attached implement has been achieved through the ISOBUS Universal Terminal (UT) and has been implemented by a large number of manufacturers. This means that one ISOBUS UT can replace the multitude of implement-specific terminals on the tractor, allowing a farmer to use the same terminal year-round with several different implements and attachments. The user now only has one interface and operating system to learn and interact with, as well as reduced time calibrating for each individual implement change.

Steering systems and ISOBUS

What is becoming particularly apparent is the trend towards networked system solutions by use of GPS-based applications. Only a short time ago, automated steering assisted by a GPS signal achieved a successful market breakthrough, bringing with it a tremendous benefit to the farmer through minimized overlaps and therefore reduced inputs coupled with longer equipment working times. By integrating the steering system with a universal terminal, system complexity is further reduced for improved ease of use for the operator.

Task controller: GPS-based section control

Most agricultural equipment manufacturers are implementing ISOBUS task controller (TC) functionalities which enable GPS-based automatic section control (TC-SC) in conjunction with ISOBUS fertilizer spreaders, crop protection sprayers, drilling machines and precision seed drills in direct interaction with the UT.

Section control reduces overlap and can deliver higher yields while saving 5 to 10% of material inputs, according to initial findings. At the same time, it relieves the burden on the operator and optimizes the implement's capacity while in the field, especially when working at night. Less material input and an optimized system output in turn lowers the fixed costs of the tractor and implement, making a farmer more profitable.

The AEF ISOBUS Functionality TC-BAS (Task Controller BASIC) can record total values for documentation, like area covered, amount spread, etc. on a certain field, while the AEF Functionality TC-GEO acquires location-based data or aids in the planning of location-based jobs like variable rate spraying.

Electronics makes agricultural implements safer and more powerful, precise and efficient. In the past, each manufacturer would develop proprietary solutions. ISOBUS is helping to promote a wide choice of implements and components that break down the barriers between manufacturers. Even communication between the implement and the farm management software is standardized and thereby simplified by ISO-XML.

Since 2008, the “round table” for all manufacturers worldwide has been AEF, which is continuing to formulate the ISOBUS standard. As the growing number of participants at the Plugfests shows, the need for standardization and the sharing of information is well received by the industry. 

Carsten Hühne is Spokesman Europe of the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation e. V. (AEF), located in Frankfurt, Germany. Like most of the staff, he is employed by an AEF member who voluntarily delegates personnel to work for AEF.