Billion Dollar Apps

Billion Dollar Apps℠: Think Differently About Mobile

November 16, 2012

  • Alex Bratton

The following is an excerpt from Alex Bratton’s upcoming book, Billion Dollar Apps℠.

In the fall of 2010, I was approached by Neil Mylet, an entrepreneur from Indiana, with an interesting challenge. Neil had seen some of our work with mobile video solutions and shared some of the problems he had loading grain hauling trucks in the farming industry. To load a truck with grain, the driver pulls their big dump truck looking semi under a spout on the grain elevator. He then pops open his door and twirls around to stand on the back of the cab looking into the trailer. A quick thumbs up to the operator on the ground and he pulls a chain which flips a big switch and activates all the industrial motors, augers and other equipment to get grain flowing out that spout and into the truck.

As the grain pile grows to the top of the front of the trailer, the driver slides back around the cab and pulls forward a few feet so the grain can start filling in the next part of the trailer. He pirouettes back out of the cab and hangs on the trailer again to watch the next section fill up.

Drivers getting hurt while getting in and out of the cab multiple times during the loading process and falling off the truck. There is a health issue of inhaling all that grain dust kicked up into the drivers face. The process requires at least 2 people to mostly stand around and watch things.

Neil asked a very straightforward question — what would happen if we let the driver control the whole process from inside the vehicle? Can we build an iPhone app that lets the driver see what’s going on from the safety of the cab?

So together we mobile enabled a grain silo.

An iPhone app was created that talked to Neil’s ‘Yellow Box’, a unit that mounted to the side of the grain silo and connected to the industrial motors and equipment inside. The box contained a Wifi access point so the iPhone could connect to the system, a camera for providing a view from above of the process and the hardware to link to the industrial control system and replace that big switch for turning the system on and off.

Now the driver pulls his truck under the spout and fires up an iPhone app (his phone automatically connects to the Wifi). He sees live video of us truck from above and can press one button on the screen to turn on all that industrial equipment — and grain starts flowing. The drivers stays comfortable and safe in the cab with complete control of the process from his iPhone. As the trailer fills up he simply pulls forward slowly. When the process completes, another single tap and the system shuts down. If the Wifi connection is lost or anything else in the process misbehaves, the Yellow Box automatically shuts everything down safely.

Mobile interface for grain silo

The result? A single person can control a process that previously took 2 or more (so a 50% labor savings). Drivers stay safe. And the by product of getting 10-20% more trucks through the process is just icing on the cake. Those are dramatic numbers. Billion Dollar App℠ caliber numbers when we look at the impact a process change like this can have across the industry.

When we started this process there was no web system in use. There were no laptops in the truck cabs. There was no back end enterprise data system. It was a complete ‘no tech’ environment and that’s exactly where mobility is going to have the greatest impact. We can put intuitive technology in the hands of every single person to understand and control their environment.

If you can mobile enable a grain silo and change an industry, just imagine what you can do with business processes that already have technology embedded in them.

Stay tuned for additional excerpts from Billion Dollar Apps℠.