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Rugged tablets in agriculture

Precision farming and agriculture techniques benefit from ATV-mounted rugged tablets that bring durable, rugged technology and information onto the fields.

When most people think about farms, they think about fields, livestock, tractors and farmers going about their business. That's still true, although small family farms have mostly given way to much larger consolidated farms. In the US, the average farm size is almost 500 acres and in the UK about 140 acres. In many parts of the world, farms are much smaller. The average European farm is about 50 acres, and in Taiwan it is just four acres. This greatly varying size of farms means there are many different ways and technologies of farming.

One interesting concept is precision agriculture or precision farming. A general definition of precision farming is that it relies on advanced technologies such as satellite imaging, geospatial tools, and very precise field positioning via GPS.

Precision agriculture requires advanced mapping that shows not only the general geography, but also soil types, pest incidence, and a variety of other environmental variables that can affect crop selection and management. It also employs very precise site and crop management as well as an overall economic and environmental model of the farm, its crops, and its impact and relationship with adjacent eco systems.

What all this means is that precision agriculture relies on a far greater technology and systems component than more traditional farming. There is heavy use of GPS and GIS, heavy reliance on sophisticated data capture and system integration, as well as advanced decision support models.

The goal to improve the economic, agronomic and environmental performance of farm businesses also requires detailed soil nutrient information, variable rate fertilizer application, physical soil property assessment for optimal seed rates, as well as skilled overall management to make it all work.

What all this means is that there are a lot of farms embracing the concepts of precision farming where techology suddenly plays a much larger role. And it doesn't play this role just in the office, but out there in the field. This is where rugged tablet computers come in. They are smaller and lighter than laptops, can be used while walking around or performing a task, their touch screen make them suitable for quick and easy operation, and they can be mounted in a wide variety of farming vehicles.

Consider SOYL Precision Farming, a UK-based provider of advice, services and support to growers who wish to apply Precision Farming techniques to improve the economic, agronomic and environmental performance of their farm business. For many of their services, such as soil sampling, SOYL found all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) with onboard tablets and GPS to be the best solution.

Standard consumer media tablets, however, are not designed and built to survive mounted on sometimes rough-riding ATVs with lots of vibration, and used open-air in the field where they may get soiled or rained on. In order for a tablet to be useful in the field for precision agriculture deployments, it must not only provide computing and communications functionality, it must also be as tough and reliable as any other tool on a farm. The requirements for the ATV-mount tablets were:

  • Be small and light enough to mountable almost anywhere.

  • Have a touch screen that remains visible and readable even in direct sunlight, is large enough to be easily viewed and used, and remains usable with gloves or when wet.

  • Have all the required communications features (WiFi, GPS, WWLAN, Bluetooth, etc.) to reliably facilitate positioning, instant communication, lookups, data capture and data capture/tracking.

  • Offer reliable, accurate GPS functionality for quickly and precisely determine position and interact with software and peripherals.

  • Be built to withstand vibration, drops, temperature extremes as well as dust and water and other environmental as outlined in MIL-STD-810G testing procedures.

In addition to providing services, SOYL discovered that many precision farmers began using ATVs of their own. The rationale was that for the cost of a new subcompact tractor, farmers could get similar horsepower, more maneuverability and much higher speeds from an ATV.

The picture to the right shows a Samwell RUGGEDBOOK SR820 tablet computer with a 8.9-inch daylight-readable display that is large enough to show a wealth of information (including large GPS maps), but not too large to slow a utility worker down or confine the device to be used in a vehicle or field office. IP65 sealing means the unit is largely immune to dust, rain and weather, and the device has passed numerous environmental tests, including shock and vibration.

The Samwell RUGGEDBOOK SR820 provides Windows functionalty and performance in a rugged tablet form factor. Measuring just 10.1 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches and weighing under three pounds, the SR820 is smaller and lighter than full-size rugged tablets without requiring many compromises. There is good wired connectivity on board, all the connectors are standard size, and there is a wealth of wireless functionality (including available GPS and 3.75G radio) and also an integrated camera and optional laser scanner. The device can easily be carried and just as easily mounted on various types of ATVs.

Relevant Information:

Samwell Group RUGGEDBOOK SR820 page
SOYL Precision Farming (UK)

To learn more about the ruggedized Samwell SR820 tablet computer and its many applications, email RUGGEDBOOK at And check's full analysis of the SR820.

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