Welcome back to Week 2 of Team Crop Dusters adventures in Virtual Spraying! Contrary to popular belief, not all those who call the Midwest home know the intricacies of farming. Sometimes we are downright clueless when knowledgeable farmers start using lingo and jargon. That’s why this week we took a trip to a local John Deere dealership and an Agricultural Co-Op in Dyersville, IA (Home to Field of Dreams movie site!) to check out what we will be simulating. This not only helped us gather reference pictures and proper measurements for the simulator setup, it also gave us a feel for actually being in the sprayer. We were able to gain a lot of valuable insight from those with experience operating these machines.
One of our main tasks when we got there was to get accurate measurements of the sprayer as well as get a feel for its size. Sure enough, the R4035 John Deere Sprayer was an extremely large fusion of modern agriculture and engineering. It’s key for us to make not only the VR side feel realistic, but the actual hardware you use to feel realistic and comfortable. We took measurements of the cabinet to determine how we need to build our frame to mount the controller wheel, joystick, and seat.
Every part of the sprayer serves a purpose. Luckily enough, we were walked through some of the more important parts of the sprayer by the dealer we met with. Speaking with someone who owned, operated, and managed these beasts of machines was possibly the most helpful portion of our trip. From him, we were able to glean important information that we wouldn’t have been able to find online such as the most common complaints of farmers after a sprayer passed through their fields. It turns out that it's all too common that crops get destroyed by inexperienced operators that don’t follow their lines and run over crops with the massive tires. Damaged crops are a loss of money to a farmer, so it’s important for our simulation to be able to help operators be aware of how to correctly drive in between rows.
Additionally, we had the opportunity to meet with some current sprayer operators at a local farming Co-Op to pick their brains regarding what is most important. These operators have so much knowledge of the job that much of what they do is just second nature. As we met, we discovered a ton of vital information as we broke down the spraying process step-by-step. This was huge for us, as it both helps us see what all can be done with the simulator, but also helps us determine which key areas we need to focus on for this proof-of-concept build.
Audio plays an important role in all our experiences. Alongside those noises that stick out in our memories, there also exists the sounds in between. Despite our lack of conscious thought, ambient noise in environments is expected and we tend to feel off when there is none. This is especially true for VR where the goal is to immerse the user in the experience. Taking this into account, another task we were hoping to accomplish was to gather some audio samples of the sprayer engine. We made some progress that day and we got small samples of the engine running. Unfortunately, we were not able to gather clear samples of the starting and stopping of the engine due to the restrictions of distance while the sprayer was in motion and various other background noises. In lieu of that, we were able to find some decent audio samples to emulate what would be heard otherwise.
The modern sprayer unit is packed with technology to help the operator with safety, precision, accuracy, and speed. Most of the interfacing between the human and the computer seems to occur on the built-in touchscreen in the cabin. That small screen displays three menus with a cornucopia of information and control options on each. The screens consisted of a map, an applicator, and a sprayer info screen. We made a mockup of a limited number of options on these screens to give more realism to the operator’s view. We ultimately decided we will not be creating a touchscreen in real life to simulate the screen. This is not only due to time constraints but also due to the difficulty of aligning things in VR and the real world. It just didn’t seem feasible to have a new user to VR trying to interact with a real-world touchscreen while having a headset blocking their view. For now, we will be creating simplified alternatives in the simulation to help deliver the information on that touchscreen.
That’s all for this week! Over the next few weeks the plan is to hunker down and complete the foundation of our sprayer simulator. While we are working on that we plan to also begin building a first prototype rig to mount controls. Be sure to check out our video below!