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Platform takes equipment updates to air

Alison Rosum/Getty Images Silhouetted tractor against sunset
AUTO UPDATE? New machinery runs on a lot of software, requiring remote maintenance. A California startup is talking with ag companies about providing the system for future equipment.
Startup Sibros provides a turnkey solution for companies wanting to keep their equipment in top shape.

Hemant Sikaria had a problem. His newer-model personal vehicle got a recall for a software update, requiring him to go to the dealer. Trouble is, a few days after he made the trip, the update didn’t take. He had to go back.

Sikaria isn’t your standard car-owner customer. At the time, he was involved in software development at Tesla, so this “challenge” turned into an opportunity. He was already working in the area of building a connected vehicle platform focused mainly on software updates, working with both suppliers and in-house components. “And writing a lot of code, building a lot of the best practices, writing the tests, building up a team,” he says.

The idea of “over the air” — or OTA — wasn’t even a phrase back then, he recalls. That was back in 2011 or 2012, and he doesn’t recall what they called OTA then. But what does this have to do with farm equipment?

In the past, an update to a tractor or combine usually meant some change to the iron. But today, the complex systems involved in these machines mean software changes. For example, John Deere updated its Operations Center software on a regular basis, but that’s a web-based system, not machine software.

After his work to design and update software at Tesla, including how the systems work together, Sikaria experienced the software update problem with his personal vehicle. “I didn’t know why they didn’t just update the car over the air,” he recalls. “We did this at Tesla several years ago, and I didn’t think this was rocket science.”

It is rocket science

It turns out many vehicle manufacturers don’t have the ability to do OTA updates because of the complexity of software and the amount of integration required. At Tesla, the team controlled all aspects of the machine. For a car or tractor company, there’s a combination of suppliers and parts that work together fine. But if software needs to be updated, that’s a challenge.

But this all gave Sikaria an idea: create a turnkey system that would tie the supplier information and software needs together to create a platform for OTA updates. Sibros is the startup, which began in 2018 and has now raised over $80 million in venture funding from industry powerhouses to provide the system to global vehicle makers.

The key is to bring together three different areas, he explains. “There are three pillars: One is software updates; the second is data collection; and the third is remote commands, or interaction with the vehicle,” he says.

Sending data from the cloud to a machine isn’t that difficult. Sikaria explains that’s just the start. “Data collection is a very important part,” he says. “You have to collect data to know what software to update, and to know what bugs or issues that software update might have created.”

As a startup, Sikaria says he’s talking with a range of companies to provide this OTA service, including agriculture firms. For farmers with newer machines, keeping updated will become more important in the future. “You might not hear our name — we would just be the backbone of the service a company provides,” Sikaria says.

The future of high-tech equipment will involve software; keeping it updated will be critical, too. Sibros may be the solution that you never know is there. For more information, visit sibros.com.

 

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