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Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Laser Beam Automatic Grade-Control System

Laser Beam Automatic Grade Control System

A Historic Landmark of Agricultural Engineering, dedicated by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineerings in 2007

The first laser grade control was developed in the mid-1960s by agricultural engineers James Fouss and Norman Fausey of USDA's Agricultural Research Service at The Ohio State University. That system controlled the precise depth and grade of subsurface drains by regulating trenching and plow-type drainage machines. Photo cells mounted on the drainage machine automatically raised and lowered the digging device, keeping the cells centered on a laser beam set to the desired elevation and grade. The necessary signal processing circuit was designed and fabricated for ARS by Control Systems Co. of Urbana, OH, co-owned by Ted L. Teach. Concurrently, Robert H. Studebaker of Tipp City, OH, began to develop a laser controlled motor grader. Studebaker introduced a rotating prism to create a "plane" of laser light that could control several machines on a field. In 1967, Studebaker and Teach formed the LaserPlane Corporation in Dayton, OH. Laser control of a trenching machine was first demonstrated in September, 1968 at the Ohio State Farm Science Review. Prior to laser control, grades were controlled by a skilled machinery operator using a sight bar with a series of targets place at 50 to100 foot intervals. Now, continuous improvements and innovations have led to vastly expanded applications of laser-beam control technology to agricultural, construction, industry, and military tasks worldwide.