Nothing But a Little (Crop) Dust in Our Eye

They say time flies when you are having fun, and the time definitely flew by over the last eight weeks of this Intel Ultimate Coder Challenge IV: VR .  That means Team Crop Dusters had fun, right?  Of course it does!  However, true to its name, it has been a challenge.  Thankfully it’s been a challenge we’ve overcome to great success, and we are very happy with the results of our project.

Development Headquarters

Over the last eight weeks the group here at Team Crop Dusters have developed a virtual reality self-propelled sprayer simulator for use in agricultural operations and safety training.  We built a working proof-of-concept application.  We were able to take that to a local farming cooperative to get some hands-on feedback and direction for our project.  We got our hands on the actual equipment that controls a sprayer thanks to some kind folks over at John Deere, which let use build a hardware simulator that replicates the real deal.  We also were able to get our hands on some great Intel and Microsoft hardware that really accelerated us to where our project needed to go.

The Rig


This process has really forced us to improve on our rapid prototyping skills both in the software and hardware side of product development.  Thankfully, during development, we were able to get feedback from experienced sprayer operators from Innovative Ag Services which really helped guide the project.  It’s not often that you are able to get a working demo in front of the end consumer so early and this really helped us focus on what was important to create and finalize and what was out of scope.

The Sprayer at Innovative Ag Services


We were also fortunate enough to get our hands on the real equipment found in a John Deere sprayer thanks of course to John Deere as well as Dan Neenan from the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, who we’ve been working on this project with.  Having the real parts allowed us to make a simulator hardware setup that will be instantly recognizable and comfortable for the sprayer operators that use our system for training.  It became a real challenge for us to make it operate within our simulation, but we were able to make a working prototype that we can take to the next stage.

Unboxing the John Deere Sprayer Cabin Parts


The key factor that made this project work so well was being able to work with the Intel NUC 8 VR Machine.  Its small design allowed us to easily insert it into the other hardware we were using on the simulator and its power allowed us to not have to worry about optimizing for the platform.  Its VR capable performance meant that we were able to just focus on our project and know that it would work.  Anytime you can make it so you don’t have to worry about something working is only a benefit in the world of software development.

For us, the best part of this challenge is that it has helped us develop a framework for large machine operations and safety training for agriculture and other commercial VR applications.  There is huge value to be able to take this demo to other markets and show the possibilities of VR and how it can help in a specific segment.  We now have the foundation to build simulations of other farm equipment, construction equipment or other heavy machinery. 

The Final Simulator


All in all, we may be a little tired from all the work, but we are incredibly happy with the results.  We hope that those that followed our journey on this challenge were able to take something away from it.  We hope to inspire other creators to take the leap into emerging technologies, develop unique concepts in the VR/AR space, and drive the commercial VR industry forward.  Finally, we want to thank you for sticking with us over the last 8 weeks and of course a big thank you to Intel for giving us this opportunity.

Crop Dusters – Out!


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