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My Special Project: Immersive Video in a $250,000 Tractor

Sometimes you’re offered the opportunity to combine great technology and brilliant minds to create a really cool solution… Immersive video in a $250,000 tractor, why not? You never know where your next great project will come from.

Sometimes you’re offered the opportunity to combine great technology and brilliant minds to create a really cool solution…

The newly built Agriculture Discovery Center on the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg, NY.
Every August the Erie County Fair rolls into my hometown of Hamburg, NY, for 12 days. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the annual tradition, which is now the third largest fair in the country, and they have upped their game. The moment that last year’s fair ended, work on a new 60,000-square-foot Agriculture Discovery Center began. This massive building replaced three barns that previously stood on the space, and it has come with a price tag of nearly $8 million dollars.

Visitors to the new Center will learn how food goes from farm to table and the overall importance of agriculture. Exhibits include interactive replicas that demonstrate how cows are milked by hand and by more advanced “voluntary milking systems,” as well as other interactive farming stations.

What catches the eye when you walk into the massive building is the Case 7088 four-wheel drive 40,000 pound combine (a giant tractor for you non-farm types). Our company was asked a few months back to outfit this beast with a visual way to simulate the experience of cutting and threshing grain.

The Agriculture Discovery Center’s Case 7088 four-wheel drive 40,000 pound combine

We went back and forth with different projection mapping solutions, yet after viewing the location of where the combine would be located, the brightness of the space, and the directive not to have anything hinder the look of the massive combine, we decided that a projection system was just not a viable option. We suggested trying a curved LED screen to match the curvature of the window. The curved LED screen fills your field of vision when climbing in and sitting behind the wheel. Look to the right and you see a second screen showing the corn spit into the back of the tractor.

Installing a TV inside an enormous tractor is not an everyday occurrence; it requires metal fabrication and custom modifications to the machine; combine a great team and much innovation and you get this:

An aluminum bracket was fabricated to float the front LCD in the window. The rest of the window was tinted to block out the visual of the building around the screens. The video itself was shot by a local production company in full HD. Our team housed the video files on a Western Digital WD TV Live media player to loop the footage and provide a simple playback device. It would also allow Center employees to change the video if needed.

We used HDbaseT video distribution to house the head-end components in the AV closet with the rest of the building equipment. Using a couple of URC base stations, we programmed a simple URC MX450 for one-button startup and stop from the office. Everything has hidden in the enormous undercarriage of the combine to create a seamless installation that appears to be designed by the manufacturer. To control the system, we handed over a custom-programmed URC MX450 with a simple “on” macro for firing up the system, both TVs and playing the file. It was a fun and inventive way to use today’s latest technologies.

The interior of the Agriculture Discovery Center’s Case 7088 four-wheel drive 40,000 pound combine.

Even though the Erie County Fair runs for only 12 days, this building will be teaching people year-round via field trips and other educational tours. They’ll also have two weeks out of every month set aside for western New York kids. Now, in a way, we’re part of the story.

Immersive video in a $250,000 tractor, why not? You never know where your next great project will come from.

Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.