Arduino leaps from school to farm

Arduino is an open-source platform used for building electronics projects.

It was invented in Italy in 2003 as a single-board microcontroller to help teach students how to create digital devices that could sense and control objects in the physical world.

“It was basically built for schoolchildren, to learn how to program, to learn how hardware works, to learn how hardware interacts with software. That’s what its original purpose was. Then people like me got a hold of it. We can use it for a lot more things than just teaching kids how to use computers. We can control little motors to drive tractors,” said Brian Tischler.

There are now large online communities that contribute to arduino open-source hardware and software.

Tischler said it would take only 15 minutes for someone to learn how to program basics, functions into an arduino.

Related story: Farmer develops tractor control

“The hello world application is the first one you run. You make a light turn on and one second later it turns off. And so, once you do that, the first thing you do is you make it blink faster. So, then you start modifying the code. So, you change it from 1000 milliseconds to 500 milliseconds and it blinks twice as fast,” he said.

Users can then add a relay that can be easily turned on or off through a port on the arduino. They can also add Bluetooth or wi-fi connections, and then program more complicated functions.

“Or you have a guy like me who does all the background work and posts it online, and says this is all you do.

“Take the code, download it into the arduino, connect the motor to the little motor driver board, and voila, it works,” Tischler said.

Users will quickly become familiar with the code and learn how to modify it to make the arduino perform specific functions.

Tischler said once users learn the basics of arduino functions, they can use them in many ways around the farm.

For instance, he said growers could build a system for a sprayer that can turn on and off sections of the sprayer with a smartphone for about $30, while a similar product on the market costs around $1,500.

“Get a little arduino board with a Bluetooth receiver on it. You can get those from China for about 30 bucks, and they have a bunch of relays on them already, and you (already) have your smartphone,” Tischler said.

“You can use that same little Bluetooth module and build a remote tailgate opener. You can build a remote on-off for your auger.

“If you want to shut your auger off, or if it has a clutch and you want to leave your motor running and you want to turn the clutch off, just zip open your smartphone and turn your clutch off.”

An arduino can be integrated into hydraulic systems.

“You can control hydraulics on your air seeder. You can just get a $50 hydraulic valve, an electric one, and use one of these little bluetooth receivers. You can turn your hydraulic auger on or off on your air seeder. Hit another button and shut your tailgate,” he said.

Tischler said the Alberta Wheat Commission is considering having him provide a course to farmers on how an arduino can be used in agriculture.

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