Cab monitors versus smartphones
By John Dietz
At Ag Days 2015 in Brandon, Man., an Ontario farmer told listeners: “A tablet is so much more useful than all those monitors in tractor cabs.” When he isn’t farming, Peter Gredig is one of three principals operating a company that develops Internet applications for mobile technology.
Since it was formed in 2010, AgNition Inc. has been producing mobile technology on request, for farming. It also has a few products of its own. The best known is ScoutDoc, a GPS-enabled field scouting application with cloud-based data storage.
Gredig is a big believer in what he calls a “mobile mindset” for handling everyday problems. Literally, it’s a different way of thinking.
Carrying his smartphone and tablet computer is as vital, and comfortable, as putting on his trousers and boots. The mobile communication tools don’t stay in the cab, like dog-eared notebooks. In fact, they’ve replaced the notebook.
It’s one thing to have a smartphone on the hip or in the cab; it’s another thing to make use of its real potential. “Suppose you’re in a field and have an employee five miles away. You have a problem with a piece of equipment and need to do something. What would you do, get on the phone?”
“Our kids would FaceTime immediately. They would go to FaceTime and say, ‘Here’s what I’m seeing or this is what I’m hearing. What do I do?’ At the other end, you hear it and see it. That’s communication power,” Gredig says.
FaceTime, along with a GPS location sensor, camera, email, messaging and Internet service, came along in the smartphone package – probably four or five years ago. Now there are ag apps to add to the mobile technology.
The typical ag app, Gredig explains, uses the original smartphone functions and integrates them with one or more databases. AgNition has built a few apps for farming, but the market is exploding. A few should be on every farm smartphone.
“One of our goals as a company is to build apps that allow producers to do their tasks easily, so they’re not doing a long Internet search. We try to provide tools to make it a 30-second process to go through management decisions,” he says.
That mindset is very far removed from the traditional idea. The old-school method was (or is) to check email and do a quick Internet search in the morning over coffee, then go out to work. “I don’t do that anymore,” Gredig says. “That’s another thing young people do differently. They understand that the tools, the smartphone and tablet, dictate when and where they get their information, their entertainment, the resources they want, so it’s on their hip. Farmers should be this way, too.
That may mean using FaceTime to answer a question about a button on a monitor, or a weed, but it may mean using an app when there’s an issue.
Gredig uses a New Holland 8770 tractor. He’s downloaded a New Holland app called MyShed. After he got the app, he punched in the serial numbers for all his New Holland equipment. “It knows exactly what products I have. If I’m in the field and decide that my 8770 needs a fuel gauge, I can pull up a schematic diagram, select the component or the part, check to see if it’s in inventory and order it. It’s really easy to look at parts diagrams, keep track of parts you’ve ordered and do maintenance records,” he says.
Instead of using a notebook, when he notices a weed infestation that needs attention, he opens up the ScoutDoc app. It already knows which field he’s in and brings it up on the screen. He does “pindrop” to mark the exact point, takes a picture of what he sees and writes a note that is tagged to the pindrop. Months later, he can flip through notes on ScoutDoc to locate issues and deal with them.
At another level, new ag apps are making some cab monitors obsolete. A dedicated monitor in a tractor – built ruggedly for one thing – can cost thousands of dollars. A tablet computer, for $500, can do the work of hundreds of traditional monitors. If you need rugged casing for a tablet, that’s available.
The new mindset really is moving toward “cloud” computing – moving all the bits of data onto enormous digital server farms that are accessible instantly and wherever there is an Internet connection. “What really makes the phone and tablet a whole new level of power is that I can place any information I like on the cloud, from my desktop. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, field records, pictures, music or contact information. Once it’s on the cloud, I have access to it anywhere in the world on any device in the world as long as I can remember my password and have an Internet connection. That converts the tractor cab into a virtual office.”
Here’s the thought process needed, according to Gredig: One, I want to do XYZ. Two, can I do it with my tablet or smartphone? Three, can I get an app to do it?
“Once you have that mindset, you will be amazed at what is available. The last place I want to be is in an office. If I do this mobile, I can avoid the office.”