A great reason to have WiFi at your Grain Bins – StepsGMS

STEPS GMS

An AyrMesh user recently made me aware of a relatively new product that’s now available: StepsGMS. StepsGMS is a WiFi-capable Grain Bin Management System that works with the AyrMesh WiFi system. In talking to the folks at StepsGMS, I realized that we had a lot in common. In particular, we both want to bring high-quality products to the ag market at the lowest possible prices. We are both focused on helping farmers improve productivity, and we both want to help growers maintain control of their farm data.

Eli Troyer, owner of StepsGMS, is a veteran in grain bin management. He realized that current technology allowed him to develop a much lower-cost grain bin management system using WiFi. He didn’t even know about Ayrstone at the time, but realized it would not be that difficult to get WiFi out to most farmers’ grain bins. His initial thought was that you could even use a cellular “hotspot” device if there was cell coverage nearby.

However, if you have an AyrMesh network, you can use the StepsGMS products with your existing Internet connection and avoid any additional cellular subscriptions.

Although they are primarily focused on grain bin management, their products have uses well outside just that. Their WiFi Temperature Sensor can be used to measure temperatures anywhere on the farm or ranch: bins, tanks, piles (hay, silage, manure, compost etc.), even soil temperature. The Smart Switch (comes in Indoor or Outdoor packages) can be used to turn on and off anything on the farm – ventilation fans, lights, heaters, pumps, etc.

These products are controlled by their app (available for IOS or Android devices) – you can see demos of the app and what it can do on their Facebook page.

If you have grain bins you want to monitor and control, please give the folks at STEPS GMS a call today, and please tell them that you learned about them here!

Introducing the new AyrMesh ReceiverC

We are very proud to introduce the second member of our new “Compact” product line – the AyrMesh ReceiverC.

This new Receiver combines most of the power of our “regular” Receiver with a much smaller form factor. It performs at least as well as the “big” Receiver at distances under 1 mile, and still works well at distances up to 2 miles from the nearest Hub.

We were motivated to bring out the AyrMesh ReceiverC by observing that the vast majority of our customers were mounting AyrMesh Receivers within 1 mile of the nearest AyrMesh Hub, and the power from the AyrMesh Receiver was actually overwhelming the AyrMesh Hub. While we have the ability to reduce the transmit power of the Receiver (and the ReceiverC, by the way), the higher-gain antennae on the Receiver sometimes made it impossible to put it on outbuildings very near the Hub.

The ReceiverC is actually a more flexible version of the AyrMesh Receiver, and, as an added bonus, actually is a little less expensive. Please take a look at it for your next AyrMesh addition.

Announcing the New AyrMesh Hub2x2C

AyrMesh Hub2x2C

We are very proud to announce a new product – the AyrMesh Hub2x2C.

The Hub2x2C is something of a departure for us – a more compact, slightly lower-power Hub with lower-gain antennas, built not for absolute maximum range but to provide continuous WiFi for smaller to medium-sized rural operations.

The AyrMesh Hub2x2C is a response to a problem we have been seeing from our customers: the ability to put Hubs 2.5 miles apart is great for covering a lot of acreage, but the “normal” Hubs don’t work well if they are LESS than 1 mile apart – they overpower each other. However, at 1 mile or more apart, the Hubs are really providing “pools” of WiFi around them, because lower-power devices may only have a usable range of a few hundred yards. There are frequently areas between the Hubs that are, effectively, uncovered for a lower-power device.

The new AyrMesh Hub2x2C can be placed half a mile apart, meaning that even a device with a maximum range of 400 yards can have continuous coverage, passing cleanly from one Hub to the next at the extent of its range.

When we first developed the AyrMesh Hubs, the predominant WiFi device was a large, sturdy laptop, with a “normal” strength WiFi radio and fairly large (although hidden) WiFi antennas. We were actually surprised at how far the Hubs allowed a device like this to communicate – typically half a mile, sometimes further.

As WiFi cameras came out, they used similar WiFi adapters as laptops and generally had similar range. Many had (and still have) removable external antennas that can be replaced with higher-gain antennas to even longer range.

However, now the predominant WiFi device is the smartphone, which uses a lower-power WiFi radio to save battery power, and has smaller antennas to minimize their size. And, on top of that, we’re seeing a new generation of “truly wireless” cameras run off batteries – again, using lower-power WiFi radios and frequently without an option for a higher-gain antenna. While a standard laptop might be able to use the Hub from half a mile or more away, these low-power devices will typically only have about half that range – 400 yards or so.

In the fields of a large farm, the problem of limited WiFi range is solved by use of the AyrMesh Cab Hub2 – the Cab Hub2 is easily fitted to tractors, combines, sprayers, pickups – even utility vehicles – to keep the vehicle and occupants in touch with the stationary Hubs.

On smaller farms and rural businesses, however, workers are frequently on foot, so the Cab Hub is not very practical.

The new AyrMesh Hub2x2C Hubs can be placed as close as 800 yards apart (even closer in some instances – we can reduce the transmit power) to completely cover an area in WiFi. Note, however, that they can still be positioned up to 2 miles apart (with reduced bandwidth), and you can still put up to three “circles” of Hubs around the Gateway Hub. So the new Hub2x2C can still be used to “light up” thousands of acres.

One question that has come up is the range from the new Hub to “ordinary” WiFi devices – the answer is that, at least in our testing, it is unchanged relative to the “big” Hubs. The range to phones, tablets, laptops, etc. is primarily determined by the transmit power and antenna quality of the device, not the Hub – we actually found no measurable difference between the performance of the Hub2x2C and the Hub2x2 and Hub2T for WiFi – the only real difference is in meshing with other Hubs.

Please have a look at the new Hub2x2C – it’s a great option for most rural WiFi users!

IP cameras – an update

We do occasional questionnaires and surveys to determine what our users want to do with their outdoor WiFi systems, and “security” and “cameras” have consistently been at the top of the list. So every few months I buy some new cameras and test them out here in the lab. I want to share with you my notes on the cameras we have sitting around here and what we’re still looking at. Spoiler alert: we haven’t found the perfect camera for farm/ranch security use yet.

The first category is “traditional IP cameras” – these are cameras that are pretty much self-contained and have more or less standard interfaces. They are “stand alone” devices that come up on your network and work. They are (mostly) very easy to integrate into an existing security system or home automation system, because they use standards like ONVIF and RTSP. These all require constant power, usually via a “wall wart” power supply, although some use Power over Ethernet (PoE).

Cheap Ebay Camera

Foscam cameras – these are simple, older IP cameras with VGA (640×480) resolution and WiFi. There were also many clones that were similar and used the same firmware, available cheap on Ebay. They aren’t available any more, as far as I know, and they’re quite outdated, the picture quality is not good, but they were very simple to use. You might still find some clones on Ebay, but I wouldn’t bother given the choices that area available now.

Ubiquiti Cameras and NVR, courtesy of Ubiquiti Networks

Ubiquiti AirCams – I used to have a couple of these, but I have never found a way to use them effectively. Ubiquiti created a whole “system” with an NVR and cameras, but it was (in my opinion) good but never great. Their cameras didn’t do WiFi (all wired), and I lost interest in them. Apparently Ubiquiti did, too, as they seem to have discontinued the entire product line. There are still a lot of them available online, and they are a good choice for a building with Ethernet infrastructure.

Axis indoor camera

Axis M1030 and M1031 cameras – Axis products are generally considered the “best” IP cameras available, but the low-cost “M” series are the only ones that are WiFi-capable. The models I have are old and have been replaced by updated versions, which are undoubtedly even better. These are my “workhorse” cameras that keep an eye on things inside our lab buildings, but they can’t be used outdoors at all. Axis makes a very broad variety of cameras, but none of the outdoor cameras use WiFi, so they have to be used with an AyrMesh Receiver. They are relatively expensive, but very, very good.

Amcrest Camera

Amcrest cameras – Amcrest came out a few years ago with some remarkably high-quality, outdoor, WiFi-capable cameras. We have had one at our back door for a couple of years now, and it has been absolutely flawless and has a very nice picture. They are comparable to the low-end Axis cameras at a much lower price; in addition, they are outdoor and WiFi-ready. They use ONVIF and standard RTSP, so they are relatively easy to integrate into an existing NVR and/or security system. These are generally my “go-to” cameras – I recommend them quite a lot. The only shortcomings are that they are “traditional” IP cameras, requiring constant external power, so they’re not easily deployed away from a power source. However, they are my absolute favorite “traditional” IP camera for use where there is a source of power. You can easily buy them on Amazon.

Vivotek IB8369A camera

Vivotek – I have a nice outdoor Vivotek IB8369A camera. It’s a very nice camera, and Vivotek has a very large line of very high-quality cameras. I was interested because it was one of the first cameras I had seen that had more advanced “object detection” capability – much more accurate than the algorithm in most cameras at detecting people and animals moving into the scene. And it works well, but they do not make any WiFi-capable cameras. So the Vivotek has remained connecte to our network, but I don’t generally recommend them, especially now that advanced object detection is becoming available on other cameras.

The second category is “App-centric Cameras” – cameras that depend on an app to provide the “brains” of the camera.

Dropcam

The first of these was the “Dropcam,” which was acquired by Nest and Google. I was an “early adopter” of the Dropcam, later to become the Nest camera, and I found it to be very handy. However, it did not integrate into any home security system (until Nest introduced their own), they did not introduce an outdoor camera for years after the first, indoor camera, and the only way it can be used to detect motion and provide alerts is by paying a monthly fee to Google. Ring (now part of Amazon) came out with similar cameras, with similar shortcomings.

Wyze Camera

I bought a Wyze camera soon after they came out because I was intrigued by their price point: $20 for a good, simple, indoor camera, or $30 for one with pan-and-tilt capability. And I have been delighted with them: they can do motion detection and alterting, and you can easily access them through the very good Wyze app. They use a micro-SD card to store video on the camera, so you don’t have to have a subscription. They are currently my “go-to” for simple indoor cameras (e.g. folks who just want to see what’s going on in their house when they’re gone). They have introduced an outdoor camera, but it really belongs in the next category.

Sim-Cam

I also got a camera that touts itself as being much more capable in terms of locating motion: the SimCam Alloy 1S. This is a camera that uses a Passive InfraRed sensor to detect movement, and then uses advanced software techniques (which they call “artificial intelligence”) to identify people and other items in the camera’s view. So far, it has identfied me, the dog, and the cat next door as “person,” so I am not sure how well the person identification works. It’s a good little camera, and they have introduced a battery-operated indoor version. If they introduce a battery-operated outdoor version with a solar panel, I’ll certainly want to look at it.

The third category is “Battery-operated cameras” – these are app-centric cameras that can be installed remotely, without a power outlet. This is a very tricky category – there are a fair number of variations on this theme, but they are (so far) none that “look” like standard IP cameras. All are app-dependent, but most of them use local storage to avoid having to use “the cloud” to store video after a motion detection event. In order to minimize battery usage, they depend on a Passive InfraRed (PIR) sensor to detect movement, which then turns the camera on until the movement is done. You can get alerts through the camera’s app, and then access the video stored on the micro-SD card on the camera itself. However, none of these are currently capable of being integrated with a “traditional” security system, although some are able to integrate with popular home automation systems like Alexa and Google Assistant.

Reolink Argus

The first camera I used in this category was the Reolink Argus, which runs on four small “CR123” batteries. I was delighted with this camera for about 3 weeks (I had it mounted out where I was having some critter troubles, and it captured lovely video of a rat running around). I replaced the batteries, and, about 3 weeks later, it died. I then got some lithium 16340 batteries and a charger (the camera requires four). They lasted about 2 weeks between charges, and I was starting to get tired of changing the batteries when it had another problem: the latch holding the micro SD card broke, so it would no longer store video.  It does not integrate with any “normal” security system, and it doesn’t have a way to integrate other power sources (e.g. a solar panel to keep the batteries charged), so it is currently sitting on a shelf.

Mail-order camera

I then saw a relatively inexpensive solar-powered camera on Aliexpress.com and decided based on the specifications to give it a try. There were two immediate downsides: first, it shipped with incredibly bad batteries – they died and would not hold a charge after only 2 days. I replaced the batteries with known-good 18650 batteries and it has worked fine ever since. The second problem is that it depends on an app which is published by someone who is unknown (at least to me) and does not seem to be of the highest quality. That said, it has been working pretty reliably for a few months now.

Reolink Argus Eco

Reolink then released their Reolink Argus Eco, which, when paired with the optional solar panel, is functionally very similar to the camera above. I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast with the “generic” camera above. It was a little more difficult to mount, since the camera and solar panel are separate, but worked essentially the same. The app comes from Reolink, which I found encouraging.

As noted, the performance of these two cameras is very similar. When they have a tight view of a somewhat secluded area (e.g. looking at a door from across the yard) they work very well – they alert every time someone walks through the scene with very few false alerts. When they are looking at a wider area with a lot of different things in the picture, they both generate a lot of false alerts. For instance, I have the Reolink in my brother’s front yard, looking at his cars in the driveway, and I get almost constant alerts from it when the wind is blowing, because it “sees” the branches of the trees moving. I had tested the inexpensive Chinese camera in his back yard and saw the same problem. I put the inexpensive Chinese camera in my back yard and pointed it at the back door, however, and it worked perfectly.

There’s not a single camera I can recommend without reservations. The Amcrest cameras are very good traditional IP cameras, and they integrate well with many traditional home security systems, but they require constant power and careful consideration around IP address planning (including router configuration) if you want to use them with an NVR or from outside your network.

The Wyze indoor cameras are so good and so inexpensive that they’re definitely my current choice for indoor cameras if you don’t need to integrate in with a traditional home security system. Their app is very good, and provides good alerts on motion, as well as good “on-demand” viewing. Unfortunately, they recently introduced an outdoor camera that, due to its design and the reviews I have read, I’m going to decline to test. They are going in a lot of directions right now, and not all of them will be successful, and I hope they “double back” and build a good, simple, outdoor solar-powered camera without the complications of the “Gateway module” and yet another wireless network.

Similarly, I like the Reolink Argus Eco for use in outdoor locations where there’s no power. Just turn off the motion detection and notifications if you need to use it in an area where there’s likely to be a lot of extra motion due to wind or other factors. There are a huge number and variety of similar cameras coming out of China – perhaps we can modify one or more of them to optimize it for rural use.

I’m going to keep looking and testing cameras here with an eye toward what works on the farm or ranch. Of course, I’m always eager to hear about what you have found, what you are using, and what you’re not using any more (successes and failures). Next up for me is the “EyeCube” – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Futuristic techy stuff with no obvious link to farming…

This is a bit of a departure from our other blog posts – I like to talk mostly about up-to-the minute practical stuff you can start using right away. Today, however, I’m going to point out some upcoming technology trends that appear to have no connection to farming, but I think will end up being profoundly useful.

WiFi 6

WiFi 6 is the new marketing name for 802.11ax, the next generation WiFi standard. Briefly, we have seen 802.11b (2.4 GHz only, WEP security which did not turn out to be secure at all, up to 11 Mbps), 802.11a (similar to b, but on 5.8 GHz and up to 54 Mbps), 802.11g (2.4 GHz. with OFDM for up to 54 Mbps and WPA for real security), 802.11n (dual-band with MIMO for greater bandwidth and range and even better security with WPA2 – this is what the AyrMesh Hub2 series is based on – now re-named “WiFi 4”), and 802.11ac (also called “WiFi 5” – 5.8 GHz only with fallback to 802.11n for 2.4 GHz, with MU-MIMO at the access point to optimize bandwidth to more devices and wider channels to increase bandwidth over short range – not useful at all for long-range outdoor use).

802.11ax brings several improvements to WiFi that I think are important:

  • OFDMA and 1024-QAM modulation for greater bandwidth through the same channel bandwidth. For maximum range (given statutory limitations in total output power) you want to use the narrowest channel bandwidth possible. This allows us to push more data through the same channel bandwidth.
  • Breaking the channels into smaller pieces to make OFDMA work, called “Resource Units” or “RUs.” This also opens the possibility of using fewer RUs to create even narrower channels for longer-range, lower-bandwidth connections, similar to LPWAN networks like 802.15.4 (Zigbee, Threads, etc.) or LoRa.
  • Target Wake Time (TWT) – this is a trick borrowed from 802.11ah and LPWAN systems – it allows devices to sleep efficiently and coordinate with access points to shorten the amount of time the radio has to be on, drastically reducing the amount of power required, especially for devices that are transmitting small amounts of data at sporadic intervals (e.g. sensors and other IoT devices).
  • Download and upload MU-MIMO – maximizing the bandwidth between the AP and the client in both directions (not just transmitting from the AP to the client).

Taken together, these improvements in WiFi 6 will improve on-farm WiFi in two important ways:

  1. Increasing the bandwidth available (through OFDMA and MU-MIMO) – just making everything faster and increasing the value of the network overall.
  2. Being able to use the WiFi network as a low-bandwidth network like Zigbee or LoRa with battery-operated sensors and actuators, so a grower would only need a single wireless network for all their needs.

Now, the truth is that you can use your WiFi network for sensors and actuators today, and devices like the Espressif ESP-32 make that relatively easy and very inexpensive. But it still takes a lot more power to use a WiFi radio than, for instance, a Zigbee or LoRa radio, so you must have either much larger batteries or some form of external power (e.g. solar panels) for WiFi.

WiFi 6 should overcome these shortcomings, which makes us very excited about it. The 802.11ax standard has just been ratified by the IEEE, and we are seeing indoor equipment already available. As more specialized 802.11ax equipment becomes available (especially high-power products and products analogous to the ESP32) we will be watching very closely.

Edge Computing

As I think everyone has seen, all data is now going to “the cloud” – servers on the Internet. This is generally a good thing – I want to make sure all the data I am going to need in the future is safely stored in a class 5 data center that’s not going to fail.

But there are two primary places this paradigm files: one is for cases where ANY latency (delay between sending a request to the server and getting a reply) will slow down operations, and the other is where Internet access is slow, intermittent, or not present. Both of these conditions apply to farming: low latency is vital for enabling farm machinery autonomy, and, despite all the talk about it, rural Internet connectivity is still, generally, awful.

At the same time, we are seeing the next generation of processors for mobile devices coming out that have higher performance than the “top-end” CPUs of a few years ago, while consuming tiny amounts of power. Since they dissipate so little power, they can be housed in more sturdy enclosures requiring little or no air circulation – in other words, deployable on the farm!

I can easily imagine a “farm server” that comes in a small, sturdy box that you plug into the wall and connect to your router and that provides services like:

  • Security- monitoring and recording scenes from cameras on your property, alerting you to events happening on the farm, turning lights on and off, and even locking and unlocking doors and gates.
  • Monitoring and automation – checking and storing readings on sensors, using rules to automate operations (starting an irrigation system, filling tanks, alerting when a grain bin or hay bale is too warm).
  • Communications – providing connection services for VOIP and/or messaging apps on phones.
  • Autonomy – providing coordination to autonomous vehicles operating in your fields.

This approach also has the advantage of increasing the grower’s control over data – it can stay on the farm’s server, be backed up to “the cloud,” or backed up the old way (to USB sticks, for instance).

Autonomy

I have alluded to this a few times in this article, but, living here in Silicon Valley, I see autonomous cars creeping around on public roads all the time. The problems of enabling autonomous vehicles on the farm are DIFFERENT, but not WORSE, than running autonomous cars on public roads.

The first problem is one of functional safety – ensuring that farm equipment is inherently safe. Very simply, farm equipment is dangerous, and a 50,000-lb. combine churning through a field or a sprayer buzzing along at 25 MPH constitute real threats to anything that gets in front of them.

However, LIDAR, RADAR, stereoscopic cameras, and other technologies can help machines “see” their environment very effectively, and the prices of those technologies (and the computing power to effectively combine their inputs in real time) is coming down dramtically. We are seeing some very interesting, practical examples in startup firms (GUSS, Swarmfarm, SmartAg, DOT), and we expect to see a lot more coming.

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, this post is about stuff that’s not directly applicable to farming, but probably will be soon. Ten years ago I could have written about how smartphones will change life in farming, and a lot of people would have laughed at me. Now I don’t know anyone who doesn’t go out without a smartphone. What will be next?

Interesting proposal from our friends at Land O’ Lakes

We were intrigued and excited by a recent press release from Land O’ Lakes announcing that their retail operations would be installing WiFi for the use of their customers. In the best of times the rural ag retailer can be a lifeline for local farmers; in these difficult times, offering services to help local farmers and their families keep connected and work effectively, even if remotely is absolutely commendable.

We salute the Land O’ Lakes leadership and stand ready to assist any of their affiliated retailers in deploying WiFi on their rural locations.

Whether you’re a farmer needing to have connectivity in the farm office (and perhaps share your connection with a neighbor in need) or a rural business wanting to help your employees and rural communities stay online, Ayrstone can help. Just drop us an email at support@ayrstone.com and we’ll work with you.

It’s Back! Part 3 – The AyrMesh Cab Hub

Ayrstone AyrMesh Cab Hub2

We are pleased to announce the availability of the new AyrMesh Cab Hub2, designed for use with a wide variety of farm equipment: tractors, sprayers, spreaders, harvesters, trucks, utility vehicles – just about anything that rolls and has a 12 volt utility plug.

The AyrMesh Cab Hub2 is a variation of our AyrMesh Hub2x2 design, with two high-gain magnetic mount antennas to provide MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) for high bandwidth and better signal integrity.

This new model of the AyrMesh Cab Hub combines the best qualities of our previous model of the Cab Hub – ease of setup and use – with improvements to make it even easier to set up, as well as significantly better overall performance.

We have been trying to bring out a MIMO version of the Cab Hub for quite a while, but we kept running into problems with the radios we were trying to use. This radio, however, passed all our tests with flying colors and has been rock-solid.

Because it is based on the same weather-resistant design as the Hub2x2, the Cab Hub2 can be used on enclosed cab machines or machines without a cab – open-cab tractors and even utility vehicles and ATVs.

The Cab Hub connects with the stationary Hubs in your AyrMesh network and provides both WiFi and Ethernet connectivity to your vehicle and the area around it. It even connects with other Cab Hubs to extend your WiFi network where you may not have stationary Hubs.

As Machine-to-Machine or M2M communications becomes increasingly important, the Cab Hub2 provides a simple, high-bandwidth, reliable way to connect vehicles to each other and to external servers, on the farm or in the cloud. Meshing WiFi is faster and more reliable than cellular, and available anywhere it’s needed without carriers or subscription fees.

As autonomous farm vehicles become available, M2M communications will become even more vital to farm operations. For that reason, we are also offering the Cab Hub2 in OEM packaging for integration into new autonomous platforms and products. The product is available at a board level up to the complete product, according to the integrator’s needs.

We firmly believe that meshing WiFi is the only communications solution that enables autonomy on the farm – please contact us today to talk more about your autonomous solutions and needs. At the beginning of this article I said the Cab Hub is good for anything that rolls – but we’re talking to folks who make things that fly, too!

Farmers’ Right to Repair, Right to Replace – Open Standards and Open Source in AgTech (and elsewhere)

The “Right to Repair” movement has been slowly gaining momentum over the last few years, as I was reminded this week by an excellent article on Bloomberg Businssweek, “Farmers Fight John Deere Over Who Gets to Fix a $800,000 Tractor”. Where I found this article much more interesting than others is that it tried to explore both sides of the issue, and it used as a source my friend Willie Vogt, who is an agriculture media industry stalwart, industry-described “agriculture technology geek”, and whose knowledge and understanding of AgTech I admire very much.

Support for “Right to Repair,” with some caveats…

So, to be absolutely clear about my own biases, I am absolutely in favor of the right to repair, of open standards and open source, and of, for lack of a better word, “hackability.” So it stands to reason that I would be fully in the camp of advocate and Nebraska engineer Kevin Kenney and the other “Right to Repair” folks, and I am – but with a few important caveats that keep me actually more closely aligned with Willie. I think this deserves some serious explanation.

Having the right to do something carries with it the obligation to do it responsibly. In this article, Willie is pointing out that an enormous amount of damage can be done by someone hacking away with the very sensitive control system for a large, complex piece of equipment like a combine. And I agree. If you disable the emissions controls on a piece of equipment you are just being a selfish, obnoxious neighbor, polluting your property and that of your neighbors for your own gain. If you disable the safety features, you are literally risking the lift of anyone who comes near it. So, when Kevin talks about the right to “hot rod” his equipment, I bristle: I think he should have the right to “hot rod” his combine if he’s about to take it out to a combine derby, or especially being able to run the combine during harvest season while he’s waiting for a part, but I certainly don’t want him running a combine continuously all fall with its emissions system compromised. Similarly with the safety components – I don’t mind him being able to bypass a “port open” sensor while he’s getting a spare part, but there should be some requirement to (1) label it clearly for the sake of anyone who comes in close proximity of the machine, and (2) get it fixed as quickly as possible.

One of the more nuanced examples in the article, however, is one about a line of Deere combines that are mechanically identical but sold at different horsepower ratings limited only by software. On one hand, this seems inherently dishonest: you buy a machine that’s capable of a certain level of performance, but you are artificially prevented from accessing that performance. On the other hand, it seems completely honest: you paid an appropriate price for a level of performance that Deere successfully provided.

Influence from Other Industries

Modern “Software As A Service” platforms, like Salesforce.com or Oracle NetSuite, have introduced this concept widely: it means that a small business can access the same powerful software as large businesses, and each with the particular modules they need, and each paying an appropriate price for the benefit they get from it. The software runs in the same browser window on the same computer, whether they are paying $100 per month or $100,000. So why not sell farm equipment the same way: different versions and options of software running on the same hardware at the customer site? That way the customer can even “upgrade” the machine or turn on additional features as they are needed, saving the farmer money and allowing the dealer to deliver new capability as the farmer requires without having to deliver additional hardware.

The problem is, of course, that business model only works if the vendor has complete control over the software – the users can’t modify it, and, if something goes wrong, they are completely at the mercy of the vendor. So this business model necessarily conflicts with the right to repair – it is only applicable for equipment that is rented or leased, not for equipment that is purchased.

Need for Open Source

There is a fairly radical solution: the source for all this embedded software in devices we purchase – from smartphones to tractors – should be available freely. Clearly, this would enable people to do things that are stupid, inconsiderate, and dangerous. It would also allow people to understand, repair, and maintain their devices indefinitely, protecting the investment they make in these devices that are frequently critical in running customers’ businesses.

Of course, there are other approaches to the particular problems of the Right to Repair farm machinery. Manufacturers offering complete diagnostic software to all owners is a good first step, enabling at least complete troubleshooting if not necessarily the ability to repair or modify the machine. Providing software that will allow someone to bypass or disable a sensor, for instance, for a period of time might also help a lot.

Networked Devices Need Lifelong Updates

Looking forward, however, the problems with farm equipment and other electronic devices like smartphones start to intersect as farm equipment becomes increasingly network-connected, meaning they can be the target of online hackers. Like smartphones, farm equipment will need to be continuously updated long after there is no economic incentive for the manufacturer to do so. Without some form of open-source software to run on these machines, they’ll be vulnerable to online hacking that can render them useless.

Where Ayrstone Stands

For ourselves, we use open-source software and open standards: you can replace the firmware on any Ayrstone product with the open-source packages from OpenWRT, DD-WRT, etc., and you can replace an AyrMesh Hub with another device that uses standard 802.11s meshing. We’re not competing by “trapping” you into our technology; we’re competing by offering the best, easiest-to-use products and support for our market: wireless networking for farms and ranches.

We get it – nobody wants to collect a new “doorstop” because it can’t have the software updated, whether it’s a $300 WiFi access point or a $300,000 tractor. By making use of standards instead of using proprietary technology, we protect the investment you make in our products and all the wireless technology you use on the farm. We’re hoping our example will influence some of the other vendors of agricultural technology, large and small.

It’s Back! Part 2 – The AyrMesh Hub2x2

After over a year, we are happy to announce the new version of the AyrMesh Hub2x2! The new Hub2x2, just like the older model, offers twice the bandwidth (speed) of the single-antenna Hub2T and Hub2n. However, this new model offers more transmit power along with high-gain antennas for maximum range – the same as the Hub2T.

This new model of the Hub2x2 has the antenna jacks solidly molded into the case for maximum durability, with durable, high-gain antennae very similar to the antenna on the Hub2T.

We strongly recommend the Hub2x2 as your “Gateway Hub” – the Hub connected to your Router as the origin of your AyrMesh network; for Remote Hubs we now offer either the Hub2x2 or the Hub2T.

In our testing, we have found that the new Hub2x2 delivers up to 65 Mbps to a 2×2 client (as tested with a Samsung Galaxy S10), and over 30 Mbps as a Remote Hub 2 miles from a Hub2x2 Gateway Hub, so it’s much more capable as a Remote Hub than the older Hub2x2 model – faster than the Hub2T.

The one big difference between the Hub2x2 and the Hub2T is in the amount of power needed – the Hub2T requires only about 4.5 Watts, but the Hub2x2 needs about 8 Watts. For this reason, we continue to suggest the use of the Hub2T in cases where power is an issue, like a “field Hub” powered by a solar-panel battery pack.

The new Hub2x2 is available right now in the Ayrstone store – please check it out today and let us know what you think!

P.S. the new AyrMesh Bridge was part 1, this is part 2… stay tuned for part 3!

It’s Back! Part 1 – The AyrMesh Bridge

We are proud to announce that the AyrMesh Bridge is once again available from the Ayrstone Store and Amazon.com.

The AyrMesh Bridge is just what it sounds like: a very simple-to-install, easy-to-use wireless bridge, consisting of two microwave radios – one connected to your network and the other connected to something you want attached to your network. It’s like a wireless Ethernet cable – up to 5 miles long!

The AyrMesh Bridge is useful for a wide variety of applications, including:

  • Connecting a Gateway AyrMesh Hub to your router when the Hub needs to be mounted more than 100 meters from the router – e.g. on top of a grain leg or hill, at a neighbor’s house, or in the middle of your farm when your Internet access is at one of the edges.
  • Jumping your AyrMesh network across neighboring fields – take off from one Hub at the edge of one field and connect a Hub at the edge of a distant field.
  • Just connecting a device or building on the farm to your network when you don’t need outdoor WiFi (you can use an IndoorHub connected to the Bridge for Indoor WiFi).

As the title suggests – this is just the beginning of the “It’s Back!” series from Ayrstone. Stay tuned!