Provoking spontaneous applause from a group of farmers is not an easy task, but Matt Reimer pulled it off Jan. 20 during a speech at Manitoba Ag Days.
Last year, Reimer used basic knowledge of computer programming to build a robotic tractor on his farm near Killarney, Man.
Reimer told a crowd of about 200 at Ag Days that he’s keeping the technology open source rather than patenting his wireless-operated tractor and making millions of dollars from farmers. As well, he wants other producers to use his design and improve upon the technology.
“I think farmers should be involved with this, whether it’s having input into what I’m doing or building one yourself,” he said as producers in the audience applauded.
Reimer began working on a robotic tractor that is controlled with a laptop computer about a year ago. He was intrigued by the idea of using robotics on his farm and used Christmas money to get started.
He bought a small device used to auto-pilot drones and then taught himself how to write the necessary computer code to adapt the technology for a tractor.
“I’m not a technical guy. I don’t have a technical background. I just worked hard (at this),” said Reimer, who took free online courses offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“It’s really a matter of effort…. In some ways it’s (like) learning a second language. At first you’re just learning a few words but eventually you can put together a sentence … then a paragraph.”
After hundreds of hours of time and experimentation, Reimer refined the system and used the tractor during harvest to pull a grain cart.
“It worked really well for us … but I’ve done a lot of work fixing minor issues that make it a whole lot more reliable.”
Reimer’s life changed when a video of the tractor was posted online. He became a YouTube sensation and requests flooded in from international media.
“I knew if I got my tractor to drive itself (next to) my combine … it would be big in the ag world. What I’m surprised (by) is how big it is elsewhere,” he said.
“It’s really gone beyond ag. People are seeing the potential in other industries.”
Reimer hopes other producers will use the open source technology and build their own robotic tractor, but that isn’t happening. Instead, farmers want to pay Reimer for his expertise.
Reimer responded by setting up a small company called Reimer Robotics, which has one client.
“There will be another tractor that I put together working out in the fields next year,” he said, adding he is charging $35,000 for the installation and service.
“I’d love to say I’m going to work for free at this … but I’ve got to get paid for my time.”
However, Reimer doesn’t sound like a hard-nosed businessperson. He seems more comfortable with sharing and collaboration.
“In some ways I’m sort of tossing it at the farm world and saying, ‘hey guys, I like farming. I like doing this. Is this something you want me to keep working on?’ ”
Reimer said he is motivated by the technological challenge and the joy of controlling a tractor with a laptop computer.
“I’m in this for the dopamine…. I don’t care about the money.”
To see a video of the robot tractor in action, visit bit.ly/1N80PA5.