Beacon tech for grain harvesters helps protect crops

German company Fliegl shows its beacons for trucks used in agriculture

LAS VEGAS - Bluetooth Low Energy beacon technology hasn’t caught on as fast as expected, but that hasn't stopped companies from rolling out applications that use it. One such app is the Fliegl Tracker from a German company that makes harvesters and other farming equipment.

Fliegl, based in Muhldorf in the Bavaria region of Germany, showed off its $25 beacon and sensor devices at the CES trade show here. Beacons are Bluetooth transmitters that constantly send messages, such as their location, to smartphones or tablets at close range. The Tracker beacons are attached to enormous harvesting and grain transport vehicles and can be combined with weight-sensing devices on the trucks themselves.

With the beacons, a truck loaded with thousands of pounds of grain can be tracked as soon as it leaves the field where the grain was harvested. As a beacon device passes a tracking sensor -- say at the border of a farm or on another vehicle -- its weight can be transmitted via Bluetooth and recorded.

When the grain arrives at its destination, its weight can be taken again for comparison. The tracking information helps reduce loss of grain through pilferage, and also gives the grain buyer confidence that the grain on the truck actually came from a specific farm.

Previously, trucks carrying grain usually weren’t weighed until they reached a truck scales area miles away. That gap can be eliminated with the Fliegl Tracker and a specialized precise weight detector.

Franz Hopfinger, a manager for research and development at Fliegl, said the tracking technology also helps with ifood safety. Food companies want proof of where grain is harvested, as do consumers.

The beacons themselves are small, light and almost maintenance free, he said, and they can be used with old or new vehicles. Each beacon uses two AA batteries, estimated to last five years, given the low-power requirements of the application.

Fliegl is a 50-year-old company with a history of making harvesters and other large agricultural equipment. In the future, beacons will help detect every time a truck’s rear gate opens or closes, for added security.

Hopfinger also has a long history at the company: he was previously a driver of Fliegl trucks.

Fliegl appeared at an event with other companies using Bluetooth technology to transmit all kinds of data, ranging from wearables to industrial gear.

Errett Kroeter, vice president of marketing at the Bluetooth Special Internet Group, said the Fliegl example is one of many Bluetooth beacon examples that are starting to emerge in industry. Last year, some U.S. retailers, including Target, said they were using beacons to communicate via Bluetooth to smartphones used by shoppers to find special offers inside their stores.

The University of Oklahoma at Norman began rolling out beacons to help students find study rooms and class information in its central library.

ABI Research analyst Patrick Connolly recently said the numbers of beacons shipped so far has remained “quite small,” with 3 million devices shipping globally in 2015. He predicted that number will double in 2016.

Kroeter said analysts have told him the numbers of beacons shipped in 2020 globally will reach 375 million, with an installed based by that time of more than 800 million.

“This is a market that’s growing fast, and in addition to retail, we should be seeing growth in implementations in buildings and other city infrastructure,” he said.


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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