Tracking Tractors: Fliegl's Beacon System Adds Visibility to Grain Movements

The German manufacturer of farm equipment has expanded its automated grain-weighing system to include beacon-based technology that ties the product to the vehicles that harvest and transport it.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The earliest prototypes of the system employed active RFID tags made with a Nordic Semiconductor 2.4 GHz transceiver system-on-a-chip (model nRF24LE1). But last year, Höpfinger and his team decided to move to Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart) beacons, because they wanted hardware that could support a standard protocol. The Tracker consists of beacons and a beacon gateway made by original equipment manufacturers that Höpfinger declines to name, though he notes that they both use Nordic's nRF51822 system-on-a-chip.

The beacon is designed to be mounted on the transport truck, where it transmits a unique ID number that is received by the gateway. The gateway, which is mounted on the transfer vehicle, forwards that ID to the FWS management software, where it is associated with orders related to the crop being harvested, including a record of the transport truck's current payload and the total amount that it is commissioned to haul. This enables the conveyance equipment on the transfer vehicle to automatically move the correct amount of product into the truck's container, without the need for any operator intervention. This is possible through an integration between the FWS software and a mechanism that controls the grain slide through which the product is transferred, as well as through integration with the customer's farm-management system software. Höpfinger says Fliegl has created software that integrates the FWS with all major farm-management system software.

The Fliegl Tracker consists of beacons and a beacon gateway.
For what will become the second generation of the Tracker hardware, Fliegl is working with a contract manufacturer to develop bespoke beacons that are both ruggedized (since the application requires that the devices operate within a wide range of temperatures, as well as being waterproof and resistant to some mechanical abuse) and able to run on replaceable AA batteries. "What we've found on the market," Höpfinger explains, "are beacons that are either totally shielded [from the environment] but do not have a battery that can be replaced, or have a changeable battery but are not rugged enough for our application."

The first-generation beacons, which Fliegl is selling for $25 each, have a battery that is expected to last for about five years when used regularly.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, held earlier this month, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) named the Fliegl Tracker its overall winner in its 2016 Bluetooth Breakthrough Awards contest.

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