Agriculture is an important part of the German economy. However, the times when large fields were ploughed with horses and the harvest was done with muscle power mostly have become a part of the past. The export powerhouse that is Germany has increasingly cultivated land, bringing the need for cutting-edge technology with it. in order to stay competitive by optimizing performance while minimizing costs, modern methods are more in demand than ever before, especially in the field of IT, i.e. technologies which enable complex installations and machines that perform precision work to communicate and act intelligently. One installation that has proven itself to be more and more advantageous over the past decades is the fieldbus system and in this context, ISOBUS I.

What is ISOBUS I?

First of all, ISOBUS is a registered trademark, formed out of a combination of the word “bus” and the ISO standard. This is because this application, developed specifically for agriculture and municipal services, corresponds to the ISO standard 11783. This standard not only characterizes the physical characteristics of components such as the network, the plug and the wires, but also the forms of the participants within a network, the formatting of the data, and the available interfaces. The relevant components of the J1939 protocol and the NMEA2000 protocol were adopted for the development of ISOBUS I. This also represents a classification of ISOBUS I as an application serving a specific standard. After all, none of the available applications of this brand (by now there are four with this registered trademark) serve all possibilities. They only reflect parts of specific standards.

ISOBUS I and Agriculture

In order to determine this development, relevant terms used in agriculture have to be set in context.
As such, the keywords here are

  • “precision farming” and
  • “transparent production”

After all, in the future the conditions existing on the plot shall be taken into consideration for the dosage of fertilizer and pesticides, in order to ensure that the required quantities reach the field. In practice, this means that plots with a lot of weeds get a lot more pesticide than fields were this is not the case. This criterion is termed precision farming. As such, agricultural work shall be executed accurately and based on detailed planning. The keywords ‘transparent production’ refer to a traceable process. Here it is necessary to ensure that the actions taken can be reproduced in order to find and correct possible sources of error and to gather knowledge about the conditions under which the plants had to grow. Agriculture must therefore become transparent.

The Effect of ISOBUS I

As such, there are now high demands put upon agriculture. This requires equipment and machines that can communicate with each other, i.e. which can perform data exchange. ISOBUS I provides the basis for this. In addition to the aspect of industrial communication, the field of automation technology also carries a fair weight. It should be the goal to get the machines to perform the work automatically, i.e. according to a fixed pattern and without added human intervention. This intention of changing agricultural machines to some kind of robot can only be realized when it is possible to program in advance what is to be done, so that even at this point, internal communication is required in the system.

The Future of ISOBUS I

Until now, the controlling of digital applications that can run automatically was a costly, labour intensive matter. However, ISOBUS I provides more clarity. This is because, conventionally each tractor was electronically divided into its attachments, and these were controlled each via a terminal, which involved a multitude of terminals to be managed depending on the scope of the farmer’s own agricultural machines. The advantage and benefit of using the ISOBUS technology in the field of agriculture is the ability to run many attachments via a single terminal. With this, the type of machine and its manufacturer has no relevance. This is something which also provides the advantage of flexibility and comfort. Thus, the future provides for control of the dosage for all plots via the farm-owned computer and as such, operation of the criterion for the correct distribution of pesticides and fertilizer. Afterwards, the collected data are transferred to the control unit of the tractor, so that it can act as central control computer and can transfer the information to the attachments. Furthermore, one goal is the installation of sensors on the attachments, which then transmit data concerning the properties of the soil or the quantity of weeds to the tractor control unit, which then transfers these data to the farm PC. As such, the future of ISOBUS I can be summarized as having the following tasks:

  • The automation of processes,
  • use of a single central terminal for all attachments,
  • “precision farming”, and
  • “transparent production” data transfer by sensors to the control unit and farm PC.


ISOBUS II – Success: Layer by Layer

The term ISOBUS II stands for the second version of an ISO standard for a fieldbus system that is used in agriculture for automation technology and for communication between machines. The basis for the development of this technology, which today plays a decisive role in the fulfillment of important demands for this branch of the economy, is the so-called OSI reference model. This is a layer model that has been designed by the International Standardization Organization, the ISO. It provides the basis for the design of protocols serving for interaction between the electronic components in computer networks. This reference model was introduced in the year 1983. The construction of the model provides for a division into seven layers, which build on top of each other:

  • Layer 1 – Bit transmission layer
  • Layer 2 – Security layer
  • Layer 3 – Exchange layer
  • Layer 4 – Transport layer
  • Layer 5 – Session layer
  • Layer 6 – Representation layer
  • Layer 7 – Application layer

Within this model, the representation is understandably reversed, so that layer 7 defines the top layer and layer 1 the lowest layer. There are requirements for each layer, but these can be realized in different ways, so that it cannot be specified in advance how the realization will look. The consequence of this is that nowadays a single layer has many communication protocols.

Difficulties with the conventional Bus Systems

The simplicity of the OSI reference model should have been that although there are seven layers, only the first, second, and seventh layer had to be taken into consideration. In the past, the CAN bus was used for this, as it was able to cover large parts of the first two layers As such, it performed the main part of the communicative work by itself. However, the remaining problem for farmers was the question concerning the actual possibility of a common standard. As such, the LBS was promptly standardized as DIN 9684, but the disagreement about the practical implementation of the idea remained. Additionally, the difficulty of limited expansion of such a system soon proved itself. The decision was made for a CAN bus with an 11-bit identifier, and the available address space was notably more limited than with a 29-bit identifier. The consequence of this was that hardly any reference was made to the subscribers, as opposed to the parameter group numbers (PGNs). The data rate of just 125 kbps did not offer a basis for an expansion of the network. However, the necessity for a bus-capable system was generally proven, so that there was a merger of the basic ideas of the LBS. This was developed further and finally advanced to form the ISOBUS. Now, the ISOBUS II also stands for the more powerful and expansion-capable version of LBS.

The Construction of an ISOBUS II System

When ISOBUS II is completely extended, many devices play a role in the network. They have the characteristic that by themselves, they are small computers, and as such also function this way. Sometimes such devices, depending on their type, are combined in one device. This can also extend to the CPU. Furthermore, it is sometimes usual within ISOBUS II that higher numbers of logical attachment controls are also located on such a CPU. The main components of such a complete ISOBUS II system are:

  • ISOBUS plug – this is used to connect the attachments so that data lines are available for communication. Connections via the electrical power also can be made at this point. A circuit is integrated in the ISOBUS II plug. This has the purpose of actively terminating the CANBUS when this process is required.
  • Virtual terminal – this is the so-called man-machine interface of ISOBUS II. It is a display device which can be used to control the system. It also has a screen and several push buttons. Rotary knobs are rather rare.
  • Tractor control unit – this is a job computer located on the tractor or the carrier vehicle. It serves to provide information that is converted to messages. The tractor control unit provides a connection between the ISOBUS II and the tractor bus. When the system is expanded, the tractor can be controlled.
  • Job computer – this component of the ISOBUS II system is normally found on the attachment. It takes on the tasks of machine control and the displaying of data. The functions of this component also include the implementation of operator input.
  • Task controller – this is the interface between a “farm management system” and the device control. Basically it serves the task of documenting the work processes, however in the future it should also take on the controlling of attachments and in the best case, the tractor.
  • File server – the devices coupled to the ISOBUS II get the storage space required for the storage of data concerning the configuration as well as information from the file server.
  • GPS receiver – this component can provide position data and as such, it serves the task of navigation and documentation. A type FPP transport protocol is used for this.


Automation technology serves the task of enabling communication that automatically occurs between machines and their systems. At a higher level, it also has the function of optimizing production factors. This means that the central aim behind the use of such technologies lies in minimizing costs, increasing production as well other important aspects of competition. For realization, the so-called fieldbus systems exist where, in particular, ISOBUS has emerged as a leader. This, and the versions ISOBUS I to IV, can be especially found in agriculture, as there they take care that the operating of machines can be easily controlled via a computer. This facilitates the work through automatically performed processes. At this point, ISOBUS III, the third edition of the successful application, should take effect.

Protocol Types of ISOBUS III

Within a network, it is required in order to integrate a unit which assumes the tasks of  management.

Namely, this unit controls who gets which data that is transferred and when. As a rule, this is done via protocols, in which specified conditions are anchored and which maneuver the data traffic. ISOBUS III uses a single protocol for transmission of data – the transport protocol. This is because when an ISOBUS system is used, it can arise that the data quantities to be transmitted for a single fieldbus are in the MB range. However, as a rule, the conventional CANBUS is designed only for a data exchange up to 8 bytes between participants, so that CAN messages with more volume must first be divided into elements and then reassembled when they are received. The data to be transmitted normally include the object pool, the virtual terminal, GPS position data, or job data for the TM. The transport protocol of ISOBUS III is divided into four different types:

  • CMDT: With ISOBUS III, this stands for connection mode data transfer and serves the task of point-to-point communication between control units. Data quantities of up to 1785 bytes can be sent per transmission. This form of the transport protocol has the characteristic that parts of the transmitted data quantity can be sent again upon request and that pauses during the transmission can be realized.
  • BAM: This abbreviation stands for broadcast announce message, which is the global equivalent to the protocol type of the CDMT. However, the principle is not based on the same control abilities, so that the control is not to be equated with that of CDMT.
  • ETP: ETP is the abbreviation of “extended transfer protocol”. This is an expansion of connection mode data transfer specific for ISOBUS III. This technological expansion makes it possible to transmit data quantities up to 1174440.512 kB by means of a pointer concept. This is useful, especially for object pools with extensive graphics.
  • FFP: This stands for fast packet protocol, which was included in the NMEA2000 standard for the purpose of cyclic data transmission. As a rule, these messages to be transmitted are GPS data. As opposed to previous transport protocols, the overhead here is only small, so that the load on the bus can also be maintained at a correspondingly small level.

Achievements with ISOBUS III and associated problems

The standardized plug-in connections are an innovation which the ISOBUS III introduces. They have proved very useful in the field of agriculture. In this way, signals and electrical energy can be transferred without problems between the components of the tractor and the respective attachment. The virtual terminal and the task controller also are integrated into this connection, so that such an ISOBUS III plug ensures that four components of the network can communicate with each other at the same time in order to automate the processes. However, there are also problems with use of ISOBUS technology, as the selected standard leaves the developer a relatively large margin. An object pool can be represented as graphically optimized on one virtual terminal, yet very badly on the other. As such, the original simplicity of operation suffers. At this point it becomes necessary for the developer to find a representation that is suitable for all virtual terminals. Another problem for ISOBUS III is the fact that it offers enormous advantages for agriculture and it can help its progress. On the other hand many devices do not yet conform with this modern technology. It it may arise that the corresponding fieldbus does not function from the very start. However, this should not represent a long-lasting obstacle, as the focus is on the aspect of cost reduction. Namely, because of the proliferation of tractors suitable for ISOBUS III, it becomes more and more important for the manufacturers of agricultural machines to develop attachments that conform to the fieldbus system.


The digital Data Interface of today

The term ISOBUS IV relates to the fourth version of a fieldbus system. This enables communication between machines and a further component, making it possible to achieve automation of the work process. ISOBUS IV has shown itself as an application representing a technological innovation especially in the field of agriculture and in theory and practice offering only advantages for humans. This system not only brings a direct advantage to agriculture, i.e. the farmers, but also the manufacturers of these types of machines. Contractors also receive advantages when using this data interface. After all, the ISOBUS IV is exactly that. Furthermore, this technology has now become a fixed standard. Namely, when the proliferation of such applications progressed in the 80s and 90s, the quantity of suppliers with individual versions increased, so that an international standard was required and as such, the brand name ISOBUS was founded.

Network Management within ISOBUS IV

Network management is the rule governing how to access a fieldbus. This specifies which data packet is transferred to which component and at what time. The special characteristic of ISOBUS IV is the ability to be able to couple further devices to the bus while such a data transfer is taking place. Reversely, the disconnecting of devices during the execution of a process also is allowed. This function is based on the possibility for dynamic address assignment. Network management can be basically divided into the following two parts:

  • ECU 1
  • ECU 2

The process, including these two components, can be visualized according to a specified scheme:

  1. ECU 1 sends an “address claimed: which contains the name. This then becomes a so-called broadcast message.
  2. All other ECUs that are online report back with the transmission of their address and name.
  3. Then ECU 1 knows whether it has a higher priority and can occupy address space by sending the corresponding number to ECU 2.
  4. ECU 2 then transmits a “cannot claim address” and as such, receives the address “null”.
  5. ECU 2 must search for a new address or have one assigned from another subscriber with “command address”.

This process within the network management of ISOBUS IV always takes place when a new participant is added. This can happen by connecting an implement. However, this does not include mechanisms which serve to prevent an overloading of the bus.

Where is the actual Benefit of ISOBUS IV

As a rule, in theory, use of this technological application will simplify the handling and operation of machines and attachments. In practice, this desired success can prove itself, so that ISOBUS IV makes sure that there are no unnecessary cables and that no additional operating elements are required. After all, the decisive criterion with this system is the use of a central terminal for all network-internal components that are coupled to each other simply via a plug. Even with very complex devices experience has shown that ISOBUS IV can reduce the quantity of the hydraulic hoses to be coupled to three hoses (max.). The aspect of functionality has most relevance. After all, as a result of the central control unit, it is possible that commands can be sent at the same time and from the seat of the tractor. The work process is shortened by the ability to run several work steps in parallel. Finally, the advantage of ISOBUS IV is the fact that set values can be displayed, so that they are not only stored and accessed again, but are also capable of being changed. This makes it possible to adjust a device optimally so that, for example, pesticide is only dispensed as a quantity that is actually required.

A summary: ISOBUS IV

The use of this type of fieldbus system “revolutionizes” agriculture and increases competitiveness. After all, the simplicity of handling increases the quality of work and as such, the output that is achieved. Work can be performed faster and more accurately. Wastage, caused by incorrect information concerning the quantity of pesticide, the soil conditions, and other external influences affecting the growth of plants is eliminated and through this, costs are reduced. This is especially evident from the example of a plough, as it has many functions. Some though are rarely used because of impractical switching. The fuel consumption also increases as a result of this impracticality. The fourth version of ISOBUS thus proves itself as an investment that seems inescapable if the farmer wants to remain competitive with other farmers. Furthermore, the aspect of environmental protection must also be considered. Lower fuel consumption as a result of simpler and faster operation and the exact specification of the dosage of agents (of any type) can influence the ecosystem positively.