Some of the most vexing issues with the adoption and expanded use of new ag technologies are compatibility and connectivity of different components and applications. Farmers and dealers alike have shared the frustration of getting equipment and software produced by different manufacturers to get along with each other.
To overcome this roadblock, several manufacturers launched a joint effort in 2010, called iGreen, to develop a “neutral” way for farmers, dealers and contractors (custom operators) to exchange data between machinery and agricultural software applications from a wide range of manufacturers. That effort has resulted in the agrirouter. This is an internet-based data exchange platform developed to help resolve the problems with mixing and matching various agricultural systems and applications.
“This will connect up machinery and agricultural software from a wide range of manufacturers,” say the developers. “It’s an open approach that will also allow other market players (e.g. producers of farming resources, agricultural trade, etc.) to make their digital products available in the marketplace for the purposes of optimizing agricultural production processes.”
The new platform was rolled out by DKE-Data at Agritechnica 2017, and it was awarded a silver medal by a committee of European experts at the German show. It is scheduled for commercial introduction in spring of 2018. Software supplier for the agrirouter is SAP, based in Walldorf, Germany, one of the largest developers of enterprise software worldwide. Agrirouter is considered a major step in the development of “Smart Farming” or what the Europeans call “Farming 4.0.”
Solving a Fundamental Problem
“The reason we developed the agrirouter was to solve the major problem of apps and all farm management systems having different interfaces. Nothing was compatible. Another big advantage is the customer or the contractor can decide what data to use and where the data goes,” says Jan Horstmann, head of electronics & product IT research and development for Maschinenfabrik Bernard Krone GmbH & Co.
He says agrirouter is an interface that can be used for nearly any farming operation and management system. “But DKE only sells the links to agrirouter because we don’t want to get into the commercial part of selling apps,” he says. “Agrirouter has no real agricultural function for the farmer and contractor. It does not store data. It’s like the postman. It’s only transporting data, taking care that the right data gets to the right recipients. That’s the whole principle of this.”
Horstmann goes on to explain the impetus for the development of the interface. “We have multi-color fleets, and farmers had to use multiple software solutions because there was no single software that was able to cope with all of the machines. This problem is overcome by the agrirouter.
“It’s now possible to use data from multiple machines with one single software. That’s the first advantage,” says Horstmann. “The second advantage is that of data flow involved with planting, harvesting, mapping, application and all these things. Farmers had all of these hurdles to get the data back. This is also overcome because the apps now have a standard interface through the agrirouter. It is connected to the machines and the postman puts the data in the right format on the machines.”
Because it is only an interface, agrirouter can be configured to each machine in use. It simply allows the data owner to control his or her own data and apply it as needed and to use the apps they prefer, says Horstmann.
He also emphasizes that the user defines what happens to his or her data. To alleviate security concerns, all data transfer activity complies with or surpasses current European data protection directives.
Horstmann says the final release of agrirouter will take place in Europe in early 2018. “We have very precise plans to roll it out in different countries and North America is high on our priority list. It should be in the states by 2019.”
According to the developers, usage fees for the data transfer via the agrirouter are low, since DKE-Data GmbH & Co. KG operates as a non-profit company. The fees will be charged to the user by his or her agricultural software provider. In addition, mobile phone fees are incurred for the transfer of data between machinery and the agrirouter. In the future, agrirouter users will be able to register free of charge before setting up their personal agrirouter on their personal computer, tablet or smartphone.
The project is supported by a consortium of agricultural engineering companies, but membership is also open to others. The developers say, the basis for membership is that the company “recognizes that Farming 4.0 will only work if it’s change of data is made possible.” Currently the consortium includes AGCO, Amazone, Deutz-Fahr, Grimme, Horsch, Krone, Kuhn, Lemken, Pöttinger and Rauch. Regardless of their size, say the developers, every member of the consortium has a single vote.