What I learned by working with a plant modeler…

Pair programmers at work

Recently I was provided the opportunity to work with someone who utilized Simulink to create plant models for our customer. My experience and knowledge about Simulink and modeling was non-existent. I have heard of Simulink and seen some models, but for the most part, I am Simulink illiterate. This made my initial conversations with my co-worker an endless session of learning. It was all new to me. Add into the equation that his goal was to create a plant model; I was even more overwhelmed – seemed like I was drinking from a fire hose.

Big Data Conference

Big Data is collected during harvest

On August 25, 2014, Precision Ag put on a Big Data conference at Iowa State University in Ames. While the conference appeared to originally target producers more than the industry providing to the producers, the audience ended up being about 50/50 between those two groups. Attendance for the conference was approximately 300 people from all over the country.

Life of an Intern

DISTek Intern Michaela Leinen

I became sick of clerical work and odd jobs that would never help me in my career, so last summer I went on the hunt for something with embedded systems around Cedar Falls. I found DISTek and sent a message on their “Contact Us” link. Never would I have imagined that it was going to be such a great experience in my life. When I was a freshman in college, my first semester I told one of my professors that I was interested in the computers inside of the Ag machinery. A year later, I was offered a job at DISTek and my dream had been fulfilled.

NI Week 2014 Day 3

Get ready for NI Week 2014 in Austin Tx

More new hardware was introduced including a small Real-Time/FPGA target called the NI System on Module. () The NI System on Module (SOM) combines the Xilinx Zynq FPGA, common components like memory, and a complete middleware solution, delivering a complete embedded platform that minimizes design time and risk for any embedded control or monitoring application. The NI SOM also ships with NI Linux Real-Time, which combines the performance of a real-time operating system with the openness of Linux. Along with a vast community, Linux allows the freedom to choose how you program the processor, using either LabVIEW system design software or C/C++ with Eclipse.

NIWeek 2014 Day 2

Get ready for NI Week 2014 in Austin Tx

The technical sessions seemed to highlight the NI Systems Engineering Group this year. The NI systems Engineering group is responsible for creating frameworks, reference designs and add-on LabVIEW toolkits. These packages are originally created for use within NI but are made available to outside developers as well.

The Life of an Intern

DISTek Intern Trevor McCormack

As a student you feel fortunate to have an opportunity to get an internship, but to get an amazing internship, such as DISTek, is a true blessing. DISTek is the ultimate playground for embedded systems programming nerds that love manipulating hardware through software and who relish at the thought that their work will eventually end up on a microcontroller of an agricultural or off-road vehicle. To my delight, within an hour on my first day, I was assigned to a CAN bus project, based around ISO 11783, working side by side with full time employees on a real product intended for real customers. After receiving a binder full of ISO standards and a quick, but quite necessary, pep talk from my new coworkers I was set to start programming… or so I thought.

Teamwork as a TACO

Team members of all personality types

You wouldn’t have to look too far to find various forms of media dedicated to teaching you how to overcome your shortcomings. If you are having problems meeting people you can find seminars that will show you how to be more outgoing. If you are always on the go and can’t settle down you can find books that will teach you how to focus. If you are stressed out about your best friend’s health issues you can find a web site that will let you know that it’s ok to not get so involved in other people’s lives. All this seems to me like rowing against the stream so I’m very pleased when I find sources of information that show us how to harness our strengths instead of fixing our weaknesses.

Dirty Jobs: Code Reviews for Embedded Software

“I enjoy doing code reviews!” said no embedded software development engineer, ever.

Working together on code reviews doesnt have to be difficult

Nobody in their right mind takes pleasure in combing through hundreds of lines of Consolas 9.5 gibberish they didn’t even add, modify, or remove. There are no rewards. No incentives. Only an engineer at the other end of the diff-viewer who thinks you’re just trying to get under his skin, thinks you’re a know-it-all, or assumes your stylistic preferences are a personal criticism.

Okay, that may be a bit aggressive, but nonetheless, can be very true.

Introduction to Task Controller

Does anyone walk beans anymore? Early in my life, my dad’s three favorite herbicides for beans were my sister, my brother, and me. We spent many hours walking miles in the hot summer sun and learned many interesting plant names in the process: hemp dogbane, pigweed, velvetleaf, lambsquarter. Over the years it apparently became more economical to plant the beans closer together which made walking them nigh impossible, and my job morphed from walking the beans to driving the truck with the water and herbicides for filling the sprayer. Since I am less involved with the farm these days, I no longer know the costs of various chemicals, but I know even in the mid-90s that a small canister might go for $400. With inflation and the increased costs of raw materials, I am sure some of the chemicals are even higher cost now.

ISOBUS Schematic

Every dollar saved in spray (or seed or fuel or …) is a dollar toward the bottom line profit, so naturally as these input costs go up the motivation to reduce waste of those inputs goes up. Technology has existed for quite some time to give farmers the ability to reduce waste with variable-rate-application and section control. But what has only more recently become available is the ability to integrate various manufacturers’ equipment together to achieve these technologies using ISOBUS. ISOBUS terminals have become increasingly common in tractor cabs to offer a nice GUI to the operator to manually control implements. With ISOBUS Task Controller, a single device in the cab can control the variable-rate or section control capabilities of an implement. Task Controller has the additional capability of recording data … either total data such as for a baler, or Geo-logged data as the implement is pulled through a field.