Matt Reimer is not your typical farmer. The first video he posted on youtube was picked up by the press in Manitoba and he is currently gaining quite a bit of recognition for having developed a software that allows a tractor to be engaged without anyone in it. In this interview he tells us more about the operator-less tractor application he has created, how it all came together and his plans for the future.
Can you tell us a little more about the technology you have developed? What does it enable you to do?
It enables a tractor to be controlled without requiring anyone to be seated in the driver’s seat: the steering, wither the transition is in gear or not, as well as the speed of the tractor are all controlled remotely. I can send a tractor to any place on the field. It is guided by GPS and where it goes is determined by a software that’s running in the combine.
At this point I’m only using the tractor to pull the grain cart and unload the combine. The software gets the GPS coordinated to the combine and it determines where the tractor should go to. Once the combine has emptied its hoper and the tractor is full, the operator in the combine tells the tractor that he’s done and the tractor then peels off and turns.
How much time was required for you to build your own autonomous tractor technology?
It took me about seven months from when I started working on it. I started in January of last year and I’ve been farming in between. I’ve made some significant improvements after our season ended. I’m really pleased with my progress. Even 4 months into it, I was telling people “I’m 2 or 3 years away from ever having it operating in the fields on its own”. I was shocked to find out I could accomplish what I did.
What was your reaction when you first realized your technology was working?
It was terribly exciting. I don’t have a lot of experience with this so I didn’t have high expectations. The first time I got it to work, it didn’t work that well. My dad was not very impressed. He said “We can already do that with Autosteer!” and I said “But Dad, it’s being guided from the other machine!” Eventually everybody came around when they saw it. It’s been a lot of fun for me.
How long do you think it would take for another farmer to implement this on their own tractor?
It really depends on their level of knowledge. Just to get it all set up and running, there’s quite a lot to learn, so it’s going to take a farmer a number of months. If a farmer wanted it to be working for the fall, he should start right after he finishes planting and he should plan to put significant amount of time in it. What I’ve documented online on my GitHub page is my contribution to the project but everything isn’t there because some information is really well documented all on its own.
Are you planning to commercialize the technology?
I am going to try to commercialize it or see what kind of interest there is here in western Canada. I’ve started with some open source technology and I intend to keep the project open in the future. I’ve been trying to do some documentation on my GitHub page. For people who are not terribly technical, it might not make a lot of sense but the source code is there and there’s a wiki to go along with it. If people have questions, they can get a hold of me on DIY Drones. I’ve been trying to answer questions as I can.
Did you test out your technology on your cheapest tractor?
No, the tractor that I used is the most expensive tractor on our farm! I didn’t try to do the whole thing at once. I only did one small piece at a time. I tried to control the steering or the speed or whatever it was I was working on at the time. I just focused on the one small area. It was a gradual process. The scariest moment was a little while ago when I tapped into some of the wires inside the tractor and disassembled the tractor to a point I had never reached before: cutting some wires and soddening some of my own wires and electronics in. The first time I did that, I really wondered if this was a good idea, but it’s working out really well.
Are there any other applications for the technology you have developed?
I think that there are other implications to open source. I was in Germany at Agritechnica and as I was talking to some German farmers, I realized that a number of farmers in Germany don’t have GPS navigation systems. They don’t use Autosteer because their farms are small. They only farm a few acres and do it with a number of neighbors. Some open source technology is not quite there yet but it has implications for becoming a cheap way to putting not necessarily a remote control tractor, but just Autosteer on your equipment. That could be revolutionary in some markets I think.
Any plans to change your career from farmer to tech guru?
I don’t think so. I really like farming, I like living in the middle of nowhere. If I was working in some kind of tech job, I wouldn’t have had access to tractors and I don’t think that there are too many farmers who would have let me tinker with their tractor! It’s kind of something you have to do with your own tractor.Google+