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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Research and Development of Laser-Beam Automatic Grade-Control System on High-Speed Subsurface Drainage Equipment

Authors
item Fouss, James
item Fausey, Norman

Submitted to: Transactions of the ASABE
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 10, 2007
Publication Date: November 1, 2007
Repository URL: http://asae.frymulti.com/request.asp?JID=3&AID=23970&CID=t2007&v=50&i=5&T=2
Citation: Fouss, J.L., Fausey, N.R. 2007. Research and Development of Laser-Beam Automatic Grade-Control System on High-Speed Subsurface Drainage Equipment. Transactions of the ASABE. 50(5):1663-1667

Interpretive Summary: Subsurface drainage methods and materials technologies were modernized more through innovative research and development between 1960 and 1975 than during the previous 100 years. By the mid-1970’s, slow, inefficient trench-installation of heavy rigid draintile materials (clay and concrete) gave way to lightweight, coilable, corrugated-wall plastic drain tubing installed accurately to design depth and grade with laser-controlled drainage plows and high-speed trenchers. This technology was developed through original research conducted by ASABE Member agricultural engineers who were employed by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and stationed in the Agricultural Engineering Department at The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH. Installation of plastic subsurface drains with plow-type equipment was made possible in the late 1960’s with the development of coilable 4-inch diameter corrugated-wall polyethylene tubing. Manual control of depth and grade by the operator of the drain plow at the typical ground speeds of 115 to 160 feet per minute was not sufficiently accurate or practical. The method of using a wire line stretched above the ground and parallel to the desired drain grade was considered as a grade-reference-line for operating electronic sensors on the plow frame to automate depth and grade control. However, the time, labor and expense required for stretching and presetting the elevations of the wire grade-line for each drainage pipe installed was shown to be very excessive. Thus, a laser-beam automatic grade-control system was designed and developed under the leadership of the ARS agricultural engineers to meet the specific requirements on high-speed plow-type equipment. A laser-beam receiver unit was mounted on the plow frame to intercept the laser-beam projected parallel to the drain grade-line for automatic control of the hydraulic system to adjust plowing depth. This was reported as the first use of the laser in agriculture. Field demonstration projects were conducted in several states cooperatively with university extension specialists and industry representatives. These demonstrations transferred the new technology to industry for final development and marketing. A laser-plane system, rather than the laser-line prototype tested, was developed by industry cooperators to project a “beacon” of laser light (“laser-plane”) over an entire field. Laser-plane technology subsequently applied in precision land grading for surface irrigation vastly improved irrigation efficiency and saved untold millions of acre-feet of irrigation water world-wide. From this agricultural engineering beginning, laser technology expanded rapidly into many agricultural and non-agricultural engineering fields, including surveying, land leveling and grading, construction (highways and buildings), and military tasks. The laser-beam and laserplane systems are considered the engineering standard method today for alignment and guidance applications.

Technical Abstract: Subsurface drainage methods and materials technologies were modernized more through innovative research and development between 1960 and 1975 than during the previous 100 years. By the mid-1970’s, slow, inefficient trench-installation of heavy rigid draintile materials (clay and concrete) gave way to lightweight, coilable, corrugated-wall plastic drain tubing installed accurately to design depth and grade with laser-controlled drainage plows and high-speed trenchers. This technology was developed through original research conducted by ASABE Member agricultural engineers who were employed by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and stationed in the Agricultural Engineering Department at The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH. Installation of plastic subsurface drains with plow-type equipment was made possible in the late 1960’s with the development of coilable 100-mm diameter corrugated-wall polyethylene tubing. Manual control of depth and grade by the operator of the drain plow at the typical ground speeds of 35-50 meters per minute was not sufficiently accurate or practical. The technique of using a wire line stretched above the ground and parallel to the desired drain grade was considered as a reference for suitable electronic sensors to automate depth and grade control. However, the time, labor and expense required for stretching and presetting the elevations of the wire grade-line for each drainage pipe installed was shown to be very excessive. The laser-beam automatic grade-control system was designed and developed under the leadership of the ARS agricultural engineers to meet the specific requirements on high-speed plow-type equipment. A laser-beam receiver unit was mounted on the plow frame to intercept the laser-beam projected parallel to the drain grade-line for automatic control of plowing depth via solenoid valve hydraulics. This was reported as the first use of the laser in agriculture applications. Through field trial demonstration projects in several states conducted cooperatively with university extension specialists and industry representatives, the new technology was transferred to industry for final development and marketing. A laser-plane system, rather than the laser-line prototype tested, was developed by the industry cooperators to project a “beacon” of laser light (“laser-plane”) over an entire field. Laser-plane technology subsequently applied in precision land grading for surface irrigation vastly improved irrigation efficiency and saved untold millions of acre-feet of irrigation water world-wide. From this agricultural engineering beginning, laser technology expanded rapidly into many agricultural and non-agricultural engineering fields, including surveying, land leveling and grading, construction (highways and buildings), and military tasks. The laser-beam and laserplane systems are considered the engineering standard method today for alignment and guidance applications.

Last Modified: 12/21/2014
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