Technology expansion broadens scope of opportunities

Farm Forum

Issues close to the heart of farmers were on the table at Northville last week as farmers listened intently, learning about Google Glass and Basecamp Networks.

Craig Ganssle, founder and CEO of Basecamp Networks, provided a two-fold presentation at Northville last week. He described how a Wi-Fi network can be set up to assist farmers in providing user hubs. And secondly, he shared his experiences with Google Glass and the applications his company is developing for agriculture.

Crop Production Services in Northville brought in Ganssle from Atlanta, Ga., for the company’s annual meeting.

As farmers look to the future, it’s all about connectivity, application interface and infrastructure. Before elaborating on what this technology can do in farming operations, Ganssle said, “I love farmers. Growing food and technology are meant to work together. They’re two trends that will not go backwards.”

Wireless technology has reached forward for many in the past 20 years. It seems as though there’s Wi-Fi in almost every corner of the globe, except for farmers. Basecamp Networks is working to deploy Wi-Fi over large scale areas to provide wireless solutions and enhance coverage for the farmer.

The company grew from Ganssle’s desire to find a better way for people to work in the environment they loved where technology isn’t readily available.

He says he has the background in technology and the motivation from the Marines. “I knew if I had the right equipment, I could work from my family’s cabin out in the middle of nowhere. That’s how the company was grown.”

Ganssle described the wireless networks they’re setting up for farmers as being like Wi-Fi in the house, only a more powerful version that could cover whole farms. If the closest tower is some 50 miles away, then where the fiber connection stops, Basecamp would set up a tower to shoot that frequency up to 30 miles. Speed would depend on the carrier. Ganssle said that one farm in Indiana has a network that covers 30,000 acres. It would also be possible to have 10 farmers have a Basecamp Network and offer multiple signals. Each farmer would have an ID. Each would have its own privacy and own code.

The cost for the bigger circuits would come with increased costs. “Everything we do is connecting devices and phones,” Ganssle said.

With a Basecamp Network, it can be set up wherever individuals want it to go. When using the wireless networks on the farms, information can be shared between devices. Digital data travels in packets, and there are controls on those packets. Collaborative backend applications streamline data organization, manage sharing, and update live all from a personal private cloud.

Possibilities are endless, Ganssle said. “You can manipulate, manage and control data using a closed network. This would connect tablets or phones. It all comes down to using a router or switches with a cloud controlled network.”

The information is not for sale to those outside the network, Ganssle emphasized. “We work with farmers and others they designate. We give farmer the ability to see what goes over the Wi-Fi network. While we don’t look at it, farmers have their own proprietary access to see what is happening with every device on their farm at all times; right in the palm of their hand. We believe in keeping the power in the hands of the people.”

Ganssle said the technology is available. “We need to have people who manage it to unleash all these applications. Essentially the capability is there. I can see how several farmers going together to set up a Basecamp Network would be a great idea.”

Insight on Glass

Worn like eyeglasses, Google Glass is a headset with a projected, heads-up display. The user interacts with Glass via voice or touch. When Ganssle said, “Ok Glass, read aloud,” the headset would read messages to him. An area on the side of the headset is touched to wake the device to take a photo and put it on Facebook. The same can also be done with video. Three weeks ago, Google added the availability to snap onto prescription eyewear.

“Users can read emails, send texts, and handle many of the same things that smartphones can do, only this is without having to hold the phone,” Ganssle explained.

The wearable computer technology of Google Glass is not meant to replace the smartphone. With open Wi-Fi, or tethered to your mobile device, it can amplify the capability of the smartphone or tablet. “It’s ideal for ‘hands free’ professions where work needs to use both hands,” Ganssle explained.

In agriculture, there are many times when it’s important to work hands free. Users might be fixing a planter or checking out crop diseases. When time is money, the use of Glass can provide an efficient and productive way to communicate. The majority of those in the audience were intrigued by the possibilities.

Glass can track inventory at a glance. If you’re able to identify that you have missing bags of seed, that can pay for the technology quickly. Users can quickly scan bar codes and track the varieties of seed. Sharing files instantaneously, especially when doing crop scouting, is a real plus.

In the South, the Google Glass has helped identify cotton boll infestation. It can also map the nodes on a cotton plant, count those nodes and estimate production.

There are a number of security safeguards in place, Ganssle said, for those worried about data privacy.

Dan Boekelheide of Mansfield was one of the first to try out the headset. As he stared in front of him, taking in the information offered through the device, Boekelheide was mesmerized by what he was able to see. “I’m really excited to see how these work.”

Ganssle noted that using Glass could be a distraction. “As long as you are smart enough to not try to read while going down the road, you’ll be OK.” If an email is sent, several sentences could appear or Glass could read the email to you. Users can also visit webpages. The size of text can be adjusted to personal preference.

A small piece behind the ear connects to the bone-conducting transistor, Gannsle said. Glass has a lot onboard, with a high resolution screen, a 5-megapixel camera and more. Initial testing has shown the devices to be durable and able to work in dirty and dusty environments.

At present, 8,000+ people are using Google Glass, and each paid $1,500 for them. Google said it will release these devices to the public later this year, at an estimated cost between $499 to $699 retail.

Ganssle said it’s hard to adapt to change. The goal is integration into the daily work style as the nation evolves. It’s not for everyone, and at the price, it’s unknown if the average consumer would buy it.

“Information is out there; you just have to know how to grab it,” Ganssle said.

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