A Fresh Look at Plugfest

Jason O’Halloran (right) sits at his station during Spring Plugfest. (Photo courtesy of AEF)

I am looking around at all the people entering the large ballroom at the Embassy Suites in Lincoln, NE. As I wait for the buzzer that will announce the first 35-minute rotation, signaling someone I have never met, from somewhere I have never been, to come to my station, I am nervous and excited and unsure what to expect. While I may sound like a desperate bachelor at a speed-dating event, I assure you that is not the case. I am a software engineer, new to the world of ISOBUS, attending a Plugfest event for the first time. Plugfest is an event held twice a year, where the best and brightest minds in the ISOBUS industry come from around the world to test their offerings, checking for compatibility with other ISOBUS equipment manufacturers.

Now, ISOBUS, as defined in ISO 11783, is an International Standard. Right? So why do we need to have events twice a year in order to ensure our products all play nice together? If we all develop our products to this standard, they should just work. This was one of my many questions coming into Plugfest and led to one of my most interesting discoveries. Between testing DISTek’s product, VT Anywhere, and discussing this topic with veteran engineers at this event, the answer became clear. While the standard is well written, there are some places where items are left to interpretation, as is the case with any written document. When developing their products, manufacturers rely on their unique interpretation of the standard, resulting in some misalignment between different manufacturers. This misalignment during the development of a Universal Terminal (UT) Client and/or UT Server has the potential to result in some nasty behavior. I saw some UT Servers that would not even load one UT Client but would have another that worked flawlessly. I found this wide range of variance in performance to be astounding, considering most of these products would be hitting the market soon or were already on the market. It was this discovery that made me realize the whole purpose of Plugfest. It provides an opportunity for manufacturers of ISOBUS related products to come together and identify misalignment’s in our interpretation of the standard, as well as software bugs that went undiscovered when using one’s own line of UT Servers and Clients.

Overall, Plugfest provided valuable insight into the community of agricultural implement manufacturers, the fundamentals of the ISO 11783 standard, and how these two fit together. Despite where your journey in the ISOBUS world is headed, reading the standard and attending a Plugfest event are by far the best launch pad to getting you where you need to go.