Special delivery this week for Team Crop Dusters, as we have received the actual parts that control a real sprayer. Thanks to our friends at NICC and John Deere, we were able to get ahold of the actual seat, steering wheel, and sprayer control console found in a self-propelled sprayer. Our goal this week was to unbox the new gear, take it apart and figure out how to incorporate the equipment into our sprayer simulation. We will also map out a design for a more functional rig to house all this new stuff.
Upon opening the crates and accessing the proper equipment, we were quickly overwhelmed by one key thing. There are a LOT of buttons. A self-propelled sprayer is a complicated piece of machinery with a huge number of controls, so one of our big road blocks is going to be determining which controls are necessary for the simulation, and the best way to wire those into the program. We determined that the controls of the sprayer broke down to three main categories: manual sprayer controls, programmed controls for automation, and cabinet environment controls. The cabinet environment controls, such as AC and radio are definitely not a priority for this training, so we decided not to worry about those at all. The programming controls in the sprayer are generally simple to wire into our simulation, as they are just individual buttons to toggle. However, this would add a huge amount of work into our simulation to set up the automation and the ability to in simulation program the automation. For our initial simulator, we determined that it makes the most sense to focus on the manual controls, as this will provide a better understanding of how the sprayer operates, and we can focus our training efforts.
With that in mind, since most of the manual controls were attached to the sprayer joystick, we took apart the control console to separate the joystick and start working with it. Our goal was to disassemble the joystick, and re-wire the buttons to connect to an arcade I/O control board that we can connect to the NUC via USB. Effectively, we would be creating our own gaming stick. We dismantled the control console in order to separate and start working with the joystick. The control console is a pretty complicated piece of hardware, so hopefully when all said is done we can put it back together. Good thing we filmed it for the blog so that we can remember where everything goes!
We also received the seat and steering controls from the sprayer cabinet and are using those to design a new layout for the simulator hardware rigging. The plan is to utilize 80/20 to frame out the simulator, and attach the seat and modified steering column and control console. To do this we took measurements of the equipment and used CAD software to make our framework so that we could get a bill of materials to order.
With all these pieces together, we will be able to make a finalized prototype build of our simulator. Having a robust setup with the real tractor equipment will make the experience better for our users. As we continue this project, we are also investigating using the real equipment as a foundation to design our own control console that can be easily produced as well as standardized to allow for multiple use-cases.
Our ultimate vision with this project is to not only provide a self-propelled sprayer simulation of one sprayer model, but to include multiple models from different manufacturers to provide broader training. There is also the possibility of extending this program to train with other large farming equipment such as planters and harvesters to provide farm-wide safety training. As this challenge wraps up soon, we will do everything we can to button up our simulator and have it ready to go to provide real world training and start saving lives.
Take a look at the video below for more details on this week’s efforts (don’t worry we time-lapsed the disassembly!)