“It’s probably a simplification to say that you have to have muddy work boots to be a Trimble customer, but if you have muddy work boots, you know who we are.”
– Gregory Best, Senior Technologist, Trimble, speaking at WSO2Con US 2015
Trimble, founded in 1978, is a company where the Internet of Things is not just a catchphrase. For some reason, Trimble’s Wikipedia page doesn’t do it justice; ‘makes GPS positioning devices, laser rangefinders and UAVs’ barely scratches the surface of what Trimble does.
Consider: In 1990, a climber named Wally Berg led an expedition up Mount Everest. He carried with him a Trimble GPS device, which he planted on Everest at roughly the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747. The purpose was to try and figure out the real height of the tallest mountain in the world.
Disneyland has some 100 million dollars’ worth of extravagant and complex costumes. Tracking all of those was once a 180 person-hour job – 15 to 20 people, says Gregory, would work 8 to 10 hours a day to go through and hand-count everything. One Trimble division changed all that: by attaching lowly RFID tags to every costume, they managed to set up a system where one person pushes a cart up and down the aisle and all the costumes check in – a device role-call done via radio.
That’s 180 person-hours cut down to 2.
As Gregory says, if you can do it in one place, you can do it in another. If you can tag clothes, you can tag other things. Trimble, working with Ford and DeWalt, created a system where tagged tools are networked to a computer sitting in a dashboard. When the contractor has a specific job, the system is able to highlight what he needs. When he’s done, the system is able to check whether he’s returned everything and is free to go.
“And if you can do that inside the truck, you can do that outside: so we can put tags on equipment and materials out on a storage yard, but the RFID tags on the outside of the truck can now add a GPS receiver. As the truck goes through the yard it can inventory everything and associate that with their GPS positions; now I know where everything I need to know is.”
This is IoT. Stripped to actual moving parts, IoT becomes a buzzword wrapped around transmitters, receivers, sensors and clever software.
The buck doesn’t stop here. Trimble’s applications of this technology take us into fleet management – where every truck is not just a vehicle, but a rolling mass of information on wheels, spewing out numbers for everything from speed to engine faults to fuel consumption; that veers into routing, where it’s never the shortest distance, but the most fuel-efficient journey that matters, with driving regulations that change from state to state. Where you’re able to tell if a truck is going too fast, and if its weight is causing it to handle different at those speeds.
That leads up to being able to collect data from all sorts of different sources, analyze it and be able to tell truckers that gas is cheaper here than in the next state, and to be able to use all of these things to figure out the best possible route for any truck to take.
“But we can do better than that,” says Gregory, who seems to have made this his catchphrase. While Google has been building self-driving cars, Trimble’s been gunning for the big game: they’ve used Trimble positioning to automate massive CAT haul trucks. They pick up loads in very specific points, drop them off in very specific points, stop when they wants to refuel, and doing it in a very efficient, very safe way.
A robot driving something this large is almost scary, when you think about it. And Trimble hasn’t stopped: they’re extending this to farming vehicles, and pairing that with survey data to control how much water, fertilizer and effluence is laid down on the field. Everything is optimized for the best harvest.
All of this inevitably demands some incredibly powerful software, and that’s what Trimble Connect is: a robust Platform-as-a-Service that provides the core components for any application and lets Trimble’s rather diversified businesses maintain a set of services on top of it. It’s accessible to Trimble’s network of partners and dealers and also provides a cloud container than can host any Trimble service. It’s built using four multi-tenant, cloud-enabled WSO2 middleware products: WSO2 Enterprise Service Bus, WSO2 API Manager, WSO2 Application Server, and WSO2 Identity Server.
This is crucial, because, as Gregory explains, Trimble’s businesses are run separately and there’s not a lot of coordination between all of them; after all, it’s a huge leap from measuring the tops of mountains to automating giant machines that look like they came out of Mad Max. But because of this platform, Trimble is able to share technology and capability across all of these – if agriculture wants a geofencing capability and construction has one, they can just go take that capability. Thanks to WSO2 and a lot of hard work, Trimble can keep climbing those mountains and stalking giant fleets of IoT-enabled trucks.