Dubbing it a more affordable, automated steering product, Raven Industries introduced its Smartrax Steering System at the 2004 National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Ky.

A limited number of Smartrax Steering Systems were March 15, and a full product roll-out is expected this summer.

The product, with a suggested retail of $5,295, allows current lightbar technology users to add automated steering to their farm machinery for a fraction of the cost of a new system. The upgrade kit simply adds the Smartrax Steering components to an existing Raven lightbar and receiver system.

For those growers who are not currently using a lightbar, the full Smartrax Steering System will cost $8,490. The complete package includes Raven's Swath Smart lightbar, a Raven GPS receiver, the HydraSteer hydraulic steering kit, and a Smartrax controller. The hydraulic kits are expected to be available for many models of tractors, sprayers, and other farm machinery vehicles.

“As we assessed the marketplace, there were plenty of automated steering options but none that allowed users to simply upgrade their current lightbar to include automated steering,” said Kevin Cobb, product manager for Raven Steering Systems. “By providing an upgrade option for current lightbar users, Smartrax will make automated steering more accessible to a larger number of growers and agricultural retailers.”

According to Cobb, the Smartrax Steering System features pass-to-pass accuracy of about 9 inches, making it an ideal system for users most interested in using it for herbicide and fertilizer applications, tillage, broadcast spreading, and broadcast seeding.

“Pass-to-pass accuracy is the ability of the positioning system to measure over a designated distance from a reference pass within a 15-minute period of time, and be accurate to within a certain tolerance of accuracy from the reference pass,” Cobb says.

Smartrax users can operate machinery equipped with the system at up to speeds of 20 miles per hour, he says.

The Smartrax Steering System is a DGPS system wholly engineered by Raven, and utilizes WAAS, Coast Guard Beacon and/or OmniStar signals. What that means, Raven officials say, is that the system works by placing a high performance GPS receiver at a known location. Since the receiver knows its exact location, it can determine the errors in satellite signals, by measuring the ranges to each satellite using the signals received and comparing these measured ranges to the actual ranges calculated from its known position.

The difference between the measured and calculated range is the total error. The error data for each tracked satellite is then formatted into a correction message and transmitted to GPS users. These differential corrections are then applied to the GPS calculations, removing most of the satellite signal error and improving accuracy.

The company's steering system requires use of a Raven Swath Smart lightbar, but will function with any GPS receiver that provides standard NMEA output and a minimum update rate of five Hz.