Bringing open source code to agriculture

EAST CENTRAL — Brian Tischler, an Albertan grain farmer and the founder of AgOpenGPS, is bringing open source coding to agriculture with AgOpenGPS.

“I’m coming more from a do it yourself perspective. Everything in agriculture is closed source proprietary paid big dollars, you buy what you get,” Tischler said.

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“One of the biggest obstacles in agriculture is information – technical information.”

Tischler said AgOpenGPS started three years ago when he had a need to do some mapping while seeding.

“So I wrote this software to do that and I posted it online, and I said, ‘Can we do auto-steer? Can we do section control?” It just built and built and built until the point where this spring my tractor was effectively driving itself.”

Tischler and other producers came to the conclusion that if they could write their own software and use cheaper parts, they could emulate for pennies what companies charge big dollars for. This is all due to open source code.

The difference between closed source and open source is licensing. With open source code anyone can access and build on it – the code belongs to the public domain.

Traditionally, Tischler said agriculture software has been closed. GPS and section control could cost upwards of $15,000 to $30,000.

“Or you can buy a large... board for $3, a little relay board for about $4 and then watch a little Youtube video and hook up the six wires. Load up the open source software on a tablet and now hook it up to a GPS signal and you have section control,” Tischler said.

“I used to do bio-medical electronics in a hospital and computers have always been a passion – and programming and that sort of thing. I just applied some of that knowledge to agriculture.”

Tischler said there are about 1,000 farmers accessing the code from around the world, with about 150 producers developing it.

“We’re all working together and building stuff, building products. Some people are making 3-D printed circuit boards, other people are putting documentation together. We’re just almost at the point we can say just anyone can follow the recipe and build your own auto-steer, build your own section controls – that kind of thing.”

He said while a thousand producers use it, almost no one uses it in North America.

“I think because we’re so wealthy, we’re really well off. We have large equipment that is expensive equipment and if we put a $10,000 piece of equipment in to do auto-steer or that sort of thing it’s not a big deal. But if you have a $6,000 tractor you’re not going to spend $15,000 doing auto-steer.”

Because of this Tischler said he believes North America is falling behind.

Aside from just saving money, Tischler said AgOpenGPS has technology tutorials for technology that would otherwise be difficult to find in general.

“Where are you going to buy an autonomous tractor?... They’re not available.”

One problem Tischler said they are currently facing, is it still requires a level of software understanding to apply that knowledge.

“You got to be at this point very experienced at electronics, very experienced at building things – that sort of thing. But I think as this progresses in the future and once more people start making more parts and pieces and putting stuff together and selling individual assemblies anyone can do it. It is truly DIY.”

Tischler said his goal is to have it available in easy to access language for producers not familiar with technology as soon as possible.

The various codes and DIY tutorials can be found at agopengps.jimdosite.com.

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