Farm to Tablet: New Apps Show Technology's Potential in Rural America

An Indiana farmer is developing technology that makes work safer and easier.

by Mitchell Kirk, McClatchy News Service / August 18, 2014

The leader of a local tech start-up doesn’t hail from MIT or Silicon Valley, but a farm in Carroll County, Ind.

Several of Neil Mylet’s innovations set out to make work safer and easier, a practice that requires not only the recruitment of the necessary knowledge, but the patience to see it through. His goals also extend from people’s jobs, where he hopes to use technology to improve other parts of life through education and inspiration.

One of the 29-year-old’s accomplishments is the YellowBox App, which allows the user to operate a material-handling facility like a grain bin from a wireless device with a swipe of their finger and watch a video feed of the material being distributed.

While it’s easy to use, the same cannot be said of the app’s development, which started with the help of computer programming students Mylet recruited while enrolled at Purdue University. For many of its components, technology had to catch up with Mylet’s ideas, several of which he dreamed up doing laps in a tractor on the 5,000-acre corn and soybean farm that’s been in the family for more than 150 years.

“Some of my inventions I’ve conceptualized for five or six years before the means to actually make them work has been possible,” Mylet said.

Part of that time required conducting case studies and releasing beta units in order to get feedback from the industry on whether YellowBox was worth pursuing.

“It took time to truly develop validation that we had a product that was feasible on the market,” Mylet said. “...I didn’t want to end up dumping a ton of money into something that was going in the complete opposite direction of where we needed to go.”

For the last three years, Mylet’s company, LoadOut, has been in what he describes as “stealth mode.” He took down the website despite the flow of interest the company was receiving to put what he said was a necessary pause on things. Mylet said he needed to wait for his patents to come through before figuring out the best way to bring everything to market.

The whole process is a lot like farming, he said.

“So many variables are out of your control,” he said, “so I think it’s easier for me to kind of make the investment and vision, because you’re so used to waiting as a farmer. You have to be patient or it’s not going to work and you have to have an understanding that there’s risk. But if you get the right folks around you and you really focus on inventing things that will serve as valuable assets for other people, then you have a fighting chance that something will work.”

Mylet said he currently has five patents, two of which are in the U.S while others exist abroad, including in Russia and New Zealand.

Protecting himself globally was something Mylet learned from Scott A. Jones, the inventor of voicemail and his entrepreneurship professor at Purdue.

“Being a small company, I wanted to try to protect myself as much as possible,” Mylet said. “...We’re not going to get everything we file. We just try to show how serious we are about our inventions, especially here in the United States.”

Among Mylet’s intellectual property are the means to use YellowBox with Google Glass. LoadOut’s development team based in Palo Alto, Calif., is currently perfecting the app for use on the head-mounted optical display, which has yet to be mass distributed.

Then there is the system Mylet devised that connects sensor-ridden clothing to a system programmed with the wearer’s physical limitations and the equipment they’re using. The system would be alerted by changes in the worker’s physical state and adapt accordingly.

“If it doesn’t trigger an alert or an alarm, at the very least it will provide users to be more knowledgeable and inform them of their health real time as they’re doing some hard jobs,” he said.

Mylet said he is working with several large companies in health and industrial fields to make it all possible. The companies are “acknowledging this is our idea and our vision and are willing to work with us in a very respectful way to help us build this ecosystem,” he said. “That’s fun.”

Half a decade after accidentally killing the power to the farm’s grain system upon the first installation at Mylet Farms, YellowBox has started to sprout up on grain bins and its app has been downloaded on devices across the country. Mylet estimates about 2 million bushels of grain have been poured via the program.

“It’s not a lot of bushels per se, but we’ve had people use it every day literally all summer long,” Mylet said, adding that he is looking forward to the day it starts to cross over into other material-handling practices like mining and fertilizer.

Another one of his ideas for a mobile application isn’t designed to trigger bushels of grain, but rather information on farming practices into an educational platform.

“The more effective we can be at spreading knowledge — farming practices, cultural aspects and things like that — the better we’re going to be at bringing forth positive relationships and dialogue between people,” Mylet said.

AgNucleus would allow any organization, government agency or other entity to have a presence on the app through the uploading of information in the forms of text, photographs, video and audio, Mylet explained.

“It’s a simple way to get people’s content focused to the folks who want to see it,” he added.

Mylet’s app idea Rural Start was inspired by his failures.

“I have messed up a lot,” he said. “I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded. Just the passion to truly show the world the innovation and the potential to exist in rural America is what keeps me going... It’s not necessarily about making money for me, it’s about having a positive influence and being a good role model for others.”

Mylet has met others with that same drive and has invited about 20 of them from the Midwest to be featured on the app. Whether they’re a news anchor in Indianapolis, a former Chicago Bears player who started a charity after being cut from the team or a fighter pilot, he hopes their stories will inspire others.

“My focus is if more young people across the country can see inspirational folks who are doing something they’re passionate about, they’ll understand and maybe have someone to relate to,” Mylet said.

Even more is in the pipeline. Mylet said he has hundreds of pages making up a road map for his ventures to follow into the future.

He gives back to where a lot of it started by guest lecturing at the entrepreneurship course at Purdue to share his real-world experience, perspective and failures.

“I think anybody and everybody needs to understand you’re going to fail, you’re going to have adversity,” Mylet said.

He tells students how he handled various aspects and challenges, what he should have done differently and encourages them to go with their instincts and surround themselves with positive people.

“That’s going to give you your best chance for success,” he said. “Inventing new technologies and starting businesses is hard, especially with the day-to-day reality that you have. In my case, we have a farm. That comes first. It’s sometimes hard whenever you’re tired and have daily activities to want to focus and have an energy to make decisions that are quite hard when you’ve never experienced that... I’ve found that the kids really engage with it. It’s one thing to learn about it and it’s a completely other thing to experience it.”

©2014 the Pharos-Tribune (Logansport, Ind.)

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