Not Your Father's Farm

Not Your Father's Farm

Eager to increase the yields of their crops and improve margins on their business, farmers have embraced tech. One example is the GPS-guided tractor or harvester. There’s even a new term for this trend - Precision Agriculture.


You’re not mistaken – there isn’t anyone behind the wheel of this tractor

However, as more farmers turned to autonomous, GPS-guided technology, gaps in tractors’ effectiveness started cropping up (no pun intended). Tractors rolling over uneven fields tilted, resulting in varying heights of tillers and harvesters. Yields were reduced, because relying strictly on coordinates from a GPS meant the machines knew the where, but not the up or down. This is where Analog Devices, with its advanced line of precision MEMS IMUs, comes into the story.

Let’s start with a couple of definitions... MEMS is the acronym for microelectromechanical systems, which is the building of electro-mechanical systems at microscopic size. MEMS technology is used to build, at the microscopic level, IMUs, which measure and report orientation, velocity, and gravitational forces. Thanks to advances in semiconductor fabrication (at which Analog Devices has played a pioneering role) these devices also include, in the same small package, microprocessors and other components to detect, process, and report on their surroundings. IMUs contain small pieces of metal that look very much like little tuning forks which vibrate very fast. Depending on how these tuning forks are shaped and oriented inside, they can detect motion in any direction, how fast things are speeding up or slowing down and how fast they are spinning.

Tuning Fork

Video of a MEMs “tuning fork” in action (Georgia Tech)

Now let’s go back to the farm. By supplementing the information coming from the GPS with motion and rotation data provided by ADI IMUs, autonomous tractors provide for higher crop yields. The ability to detect – and respond to – unexpected variations in elevation, pitch or speed has many applications beyond the farm. An obvious one would be navigation for passenger cars, delivery vans, and other street vehicles but IMUs also provide, among other things, critical information about rapid acceleration or deceleration, as would occur in the case of an accident. Another place for IMUs is in robotics. Mechanical arms can be programmed to precisely position themselves to perform several tasks, but if a robotic arm starts to bend due to metal fatigue an entire production process is negatively impacted. Small, low-cost precision IMUs, such as the ones developed by Analog Devices, can provide data to factory managers warning of an impending failure, allowing them to replace the arm before it causes a problem.

What sets Analog Devices’ IMUs apart from other products is their performance. Now, of course, other IMU providers might say something similar but only ADI has developed a proprietary testing system that puts each IMU through a grueling series of motion and temperature ranges. When ADI IMUs leave the testing facility, they have been calibrated to provide the user with reliably accurate data for their complex and dynamic applications.

ADI has recently released three new IMUs, the ADIS16500, ADIS16505 and ADIS16507. All are extraordinarily precise and have been subjected to the same rigorous testing described earlier. Each of the new IMUs has been “tweaked” for specific environments and applications. For more information and to order evaluation kits (the best way for engineers and designers to experience for themselves how easy these high-performance IMUs are to adapt and use for just about any application) please visit the product pages.


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To learn more about IMU technology, here are some of the resources used for this blog:

Precision MEMS IMUs for Smart Agriculture Video of a live ADI demo at Sensors Expo (2019)

GPS Correction Technology Lets Tractors Drive Themselves NASA Technology Transfer Program (2017)

What is Precision Agriculture?  AgFunder Newsletter (April 24, 2017)

MEMS sensors: When GPS is not enough (April 2001)