Machine Control Site Connectivity Using a Smartphone

" this world of wireless connectivity a simple and familiar solution lies in the undertow for 3D machine control"

Randy Noland, Editor at MachineControlOnline.comAs the world becomes smaller, connectivity is literally in the palm of our hands. Wireless and wired networks are everywhere and access is expanding.  Advances in software, especially simpler user interfaces, make it possible for even grandma to get in on the action by video chatting with family across the globe. Connectivity is growing and is here to stay.

While this technology boasts a high ‘cool’ factor, there are tremendous economic benefits for mining, construction, landfills and other industries in the realm of positioning and 3D machine control. Industry leaders agree.

“The adoption of information technology around the world from airlines to banking has revolutionized the way they work,” says Roz Buick, Ph.D., Business Area Manager, Heavy and Highway Construction at Trimble Navigation. “Up until recently, construction has been a technology laggard. We have now moved into a different phase due to increasing competition in the challenging economic environment within the industry and the general pervasiveness of technology in all aspects of our lives.”

"What we're talking about is being able to have the elements of a PC in every machine and connect all the machines to the job trailer, home office or global command center via a wireless network by Internet (WiFi), cell phone, radio or Bluetooth technology,” says Topcon Positioning Systems President Ray O’Connor. "This ability for machines to talk to each other, to quickly capture, store and retrieve machine data--fuel usage, engine temperature, various productivity factors, available materials, machine service needs--just about any information a job supervisor, project manager or company owner needs to realize maximum productivity will be available at their fingertips in real time.”

These quotes are over a year old from an article I wrote in a previous issue titled, “Site Connectivity - Positioning & Machine Control’s next Technology Step”. The trend continues with existing product offerings from Caterpillar, Topcon, Trimble, Leica, Carlson Software and Modular Mining among others. We will surely see new products with ever-expanding capabilities as we have come to expect from technology providers. But in this world of wireless connectivity a simple and familiar solution lies in the undertow for 3D machine control.

In the same manner you use an air-card/3G data plan for your computer, your iPad and gaming console, you may be able to enable your data collector or 3D machine control box. This is familiar in the world of Networked Transport of RTCM via Internet Protocol (NTRIP) corrections but what about using the same for a “poor mans” site connectivity? After all, its just data.

A Simple Connection

There are several ways to establish a connection between two computers whether two smartphones or a smartphone and a computer. But basically, you need an internet connection for each; wired or wireless of course doesn’t matter. You will also need application that supports Virtual Network Computing (VNC ) on each computer. RealVNC, TightVNC, UltraVNC and TeamViewer are a few examples. Once you configure the connection parameters and establish a connection you are able to transfer files, view the remote screen as well as other features depending on the VNC software.

Remote Technical Support
As with any technology, training and service is key to successful implementation. When clients are successful they invest in more systems and they tell their friends. One of the benefits of connectivity is training and service. A company may have machines peppered across a large job site or even across states and countries. Simple connectivity render the miles irrelevant.

There will be needs for a dedicated wireless infrastructure with broader bandwidth. Mesh radios and the like meet these needs. But CDMA/GSM cell data connections do offer an affordable option. As your needs grow you have the choice to scale your connectivity. In a world of GoToMeeting, connectivity offers so much efficiency over time and travel. The ability to remotely support your operators and site managers offer even more value to your 3D machine control investment.

Below are links where you can find more information. I will try to shoot additional video illustrating remote monitoring and file transfer over the coming weeks. Below is a video I shot back in May 2009 illustrating similar connectivity used to remote monitor a machine control system, office computer and turning off and on a light plant at a mine site.


Additional References
Site Connectivity - Positioning & Machine Control’s next Technology Step

Virtual Network Computing - Wikipedia

iPhone Remote Monitor of 3D Machine Control

Topcon Site Link:

Leica-Jigsaw360 Mine Management Solution

Carlson Software MC Solutions Catalog

The Connected Job Site - Grading and Excavation Contractor


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