From automated excavators to self-measuring grain bins, these IoT projects are making farm life more efficient and less taxing
Greg Meandel is not your regular farmer — he loves to build and program IoT projects that remove the complexity from daily farm life.
For instance, one of his many IoT projects is an excavator that can be started remotely. By using an Electron (cellular hardware that connects devices to the internet), he can remotely heat up the excavator’s block heater, which helps start up the engine. In some cases, he had to wait hours for the internal block to heat up. Now, he can wake up and wirelessly send a command to the Electron via his phone. By the time breakfast is finished, the excavator is heated and ready to go.
This is just one of many IoT projects Greg has implemented on his farm. For this article, Greg shared a step-by-step tutorial for how he built a self-measuring grain storage bin.
After corn is harvested, the grain is collected in large storage bins. For Greg, he had to climb a ladder just to see inside the bin and track how much corn grain had been harvested. This turns into a rather timely and painfully repetitive task when you have to check it multiple times a day.
But Greg knew this was a problem that could be solved with the right hardware. Using a Photon, a motor drive, and some spring switches, Greg knew he could create a device that would measure the grain bins for him.
Bin-Level Device Requirements
For this IoT project, Greg had some goals he set out to accomplish:
- Build a weather-resilient device that could function in both moist and dusty environments.
- Find affordable hardware components so he could create multiple devices that could go in different bins (and possibly sell to other farmers).
- Create an end-to-end device that could connect to the cloud and communicate with other devices.
- Be accessible and easy to use for combine drivers and truckers.
Greg used a Photon, (a Wi-Fi connected microcontroller) so the device could connect to the internet and communicate with other devices (like his phone and the combine’s interface). He also planned to have a weight drop into the bin to determine the grain levels, so he bought two switches (one that would drop the weight and the other to reset the device). He then bought and 3D printed other components to complete the device. Once it was finished, he stored all the components in an enclosure to keep it safe from the dusty and moist environment.
How it works
Here is how Greg Meandel’s final device works step by step. With it, he never has to climb up a ladder again:
- Greg initiates the process by sending a command to the Photon.
- The Photon releases a break on the device, which causes a weight to free fall till it hits the grain.
- Once the weight hits the grain, a motor rewinds the line and weight.
- The device counts every step to determine the bin-level (200 steps/per revolution).
- A strong magnet at the top of the weight tells the Photon when the weight is back into the original position.
- The Photon sends the measurements to Greg’s phone.
- And, that’s it!
The Final Budget
Greg was able to build several devices that he could put in multiple grain bins. And if he so chooses, he can build more and sell them to other farmers.
All and all
With IoT hardware, Greg Meandel is quietly removing the painfully repetitive tasks from everyday farm life. Not only was Meandel able to make an accessible and easy to use device, he was able to do it on a conservative budget. If you’ve recently built an IoT project, feel free to post your own stories and tips for others who are building their own IoT driven-initiatives.