Agritechnica 2017: What’s New for Terminals?

Agritechnica 2017 was my third visit after 2013 and 2015. My focus was on terminals (display computers) as usual.

The standard terminal of 2017 is powered by a quad-core NXP i.MX6 processor (32-bit ARM Cortex-A9 with ARMv7a architecture) and has an HD 12-inch multi-touch display (resolution: 1280×800, format: 16:10). The new ISOBUS terminal CCI 1200 manufactured by CrossControl is the prime example.

In 2013, there were only terminals with single-core Cortex-A8 processors (NXP i.MX53). In 2015, there was only the odd prototype terminal with a quad-core i.MX6 in 2015 (from Grammer Belgium) but no production-quality ones. In 2017, most terminals sport a quad-core i.MX6 (Cortex-A9) processor. The processing power of terminals increases very, very slowly.

Compare this to a typical processor used in today’s in-vehicle infotainment systems. For example, the Renesas R-Car M3 sports two Cortex-A57 and four Cortex-A53 cores (all 64-bit), which has the performance of low-end to mid-range desktop PCs. Agricultural terminals need this procesing power as well, if the agricultural industry is serious about autonomous seeding, spraying and harvesting.

CLAAS demonstrated a first step into this direction. A camera is trained on the crop flow. An image recognition software (most likely using machine learning) detects whether the grains are too dirty and whether there are foreign particles between the grains. The future will see more and more such software to deduce actions from sensor data.

These expensive computations must be performed onboard the machine, because the Internet connection is not good enough on the field to send the data to powerful servers and to perform the computations there. The most powerful computer on the machine is typically the terminal. Current terminals are not powerful enough for these computations.

One terminal stands out from the uniform, slightly boring bulk of 12-inch, 1280×800 and quad-core i.MX6 terminals: the PowerView 1200 from Murphy by Enovation Controls. It is powered by a dual-core Cortex-A15 and has a 12.3-inch multi-touch display with a resolution of 1280×480 (format: 8:3). The PowerView 1200 is well-suited for dashboards and can double up as a rearview mirror.

I’ll take a more detailed look at some terminals in the rest of this post. I will ignore quite a few terminals, because they don’t stand out in any way from the rest or I simply overlooked them.

The Standard: New ISOBUS Terminal CCI 1200

The new ISOBUS terminal dubbed CCI 1200 is manufactured by the Swedish company CrossControl. It was on display on many booths including Krone, Kuhn’s, Rauch’s and Lemken’s. The brilliant display makes the ISOBUS applications look fresher as well.

The CCI 1200 is to my knowledge the first terminal with a window manager. Users can run multiple applications at the same time – for example, the main UI, a video stream, up to two universal terminals, the field navigation app and the radio app. The terminal can show multiple apps at the same time in a split screen. Users can also switch between multiple full-screen or split-screen apps as they are used to from smartphones and infotainment systems. As revealed by KDAB, the window manager uses QtWayland and the applications are written in QML. This is the other reason why the ISOBUS applications have a fresher look now. A window manager is a must-have on future-proof systems.

The ISOBUS consortium CCI is a bit secretive about the specification of the CCI 1200. Fortunately, CrossControl offers a non-ISOBUS variant, the CCpilot VS12, which is very similar to the CCI 1200. The CCpilot VS12 is powered by a quad-core i.MX6 processor, has a 12-inch full-HD display (1280×800, optical bonding, 1350 cd/sqm, 700:1 contrast ratio) with multi touch, 2 GB RAM and 4 GB flash storage. It comes with quite a few interfaces: 4x CAN (!), 4x USB 2.0, 1x Ethernet, 1x RS232, 1x RS485 and a video input (see here for the full specification). The notable omissions are WLAN and 3G/LTE.

The CCPilot VS12 has a beautiful industrial design and has enough muscle for a classic terminal. However, it does not have enough muscle for the compute-intensive computations of autonomous harvesting.

The Unusual: PowerView 1200 from Murphy by Enovation Controls

The PowerView 1200 stands out from the “standard” 12-inch, 16×10 HD displays with a quad-core i.MX6 processor in two aspects.

The first aspect is obvious by looking at the display. The PowerView 1200 has an unusual 8×3 extra-wide format with a 1280×480 resolution. Although unusual for agricultural terminals, this format is pretty normal for car dashboards. According to the sales person at the booth, the PowerView 1200 is currently used in open-top speedboats. If used in portrait mode, it could enable an innovative UI design – similar to the infotainment system of the Tesla S. It could also be used as smart side mirrors.

The second, less obvious aspect is that the PowerView 1200 sports a Renesas R-Car M2 SoC with a dual-core Cortex-A15. It is not clear whether the SoC also sports the optional “little” processor (SH4-A) fully exploiting the big.LITTLE architecture of the Cortex-A15. This “little” processor could take over the complete CAN communication and let the two Cortex-A15 cores do the “big” stuff.

The single-core performance of a Cortex-A15 is about twice that of a Cortex-A9 – at a considerably lower power consumption. Unfortunately, the PowerView 1200 comes only with two Cortex-A15 cores. So, the i.MX6 with its four Cortex-A9 cores will still have a better multi-core performance, if the software can really utilise these cores.

I would call Murphy’s terminal future-proof, if its SoC came with four or even eight cores as it is possible with Cortex-A15 designs. With only two cores, it feels like a half-hearted step in the right direction towards autonomous harvesting.

The Future: Image Recognition by CEBIS Touch

The CEBIS Touch terminal for combine harvesters uses image recognition to detect and highlight foreign particles (e.g., dirt) in the crop flow. If the system detects too many foreign particles, it will automatically change some parameters to clean the crop flow. This is a first tentative step into autonomous harvesting. The driver can still overrule the system’s decisions. This is a first glimpse of a future, where the system will take over more and more decisions from the drivers.

The specification of the CEBIS Touch is similar to the standard set by the CCPilot VS12. The CEBIS Touch sports a dual-core i.MX6 with 2x CAN, 2x USB, RS232 and Ethernet. It has a 12.1-inch display with a resolution of 1280×800.

CLAAS is pretty much alone in using Windows Embedded as the operating system of its terminal. Almost all other manufacturers use Linux by now.

The Innovative: Head-Up Display in Valtra Tractors

I found a single machine on all of Agritechnica with a head-up display (HUD): the new Valtra tractor. The HUD is laminated into the windscreen (marketed as SmartGlass). The HUD shows information like vehicle speed, engine speed, cutting-height of attached mower and fuel and AdBlue level. It cycles through this information. In the future, the HUD will show alarms and track guiding.

I think that Valtra was not daring enough with the HUD. It should remove the (mechanical) instrument cluster and show its information in the HUD. In general, Valtra should show all information needed for common tasks in the HUD. The driver would use voice commands to change parameters when needed (e.g., “increase cutting height”). The goal should be that the driver can avoid using the terminal for common tasks. Usable voice recognition, however, requires a processor that is more powerful than the usual quad-core i.MX6.

It is early days for head-up displays. Let’s see where the journey goes. Valtra deserves kudos to be the first to venture into HUDs in agricultural vehicles.