IoT News sat down with Hello Tractor CEO Jehiel Oliver to discuss how the company is revolutionising agriculture, particularly in emerging markets.
Hello Tractor is a fascinating company that has already had a tangible impact on improving lives. The firm connects tractor owners with farmers who typically undertake slow, manual work in hot and laborious conditions with less yield than counterparts in more developed markets with access to proper machinery.
“We use IoT to connect tractor owners to farmers who are willing and able to pay for tractor services, but can’t necessarily own their own tractor,” explains Oliver. “For our customers, the tractor owners, they make a massive investment and the first objective for us is to ensure that our customers can secure that and know exactly where their tractors are at all times, how much work it’s completed, when it needs maintenance, and then secondarily connect the tractor owner and their operator.”
“IoT is woven throughout our technology stack and it adds a tremendous amount of value both to the tractor owners and also the farmers that need to locate and book tractor services.”
We asked Oliver whether he believes a solution like Hello Tractor would have been possible ten years ago. “Our customers are incredibly price sensitive, so just ten years ago the cost of sensors were significantly more than what we pay for our sensor packages that go into the tractors.”
“Advancements in artificial intelligence and the accessibility of that technology to smaller companies like Hello Tractor makes us and our value proposition much stronger with these customers who wanted that technology but ten years ago but would have had [to pay for] thousands and thousands of dollars worth of sensors versus data analytics that we now do in the cloud; delivering the same value but at a fraction of the cost.”
Hello Tractor, along with many other companies, are benefiting from several powerful new technologies maturing such as the IoT, cloud, and AI. We asked Oliver to expand on how his company is using AI for its operations.
“We start by informing the tractor owners of what activities that tractor is completing in the field. If you look at sensor packages on higher horsepower tractors, which we don’t typically work with, we replace those sensors with predictive analytics for maintenance and repair. We deliver those insights through AI and machine learning.”
Another technology rapidly maturing is blockchain. We heard that Hello Tractor is exploring the technology for its operations and took the opportunity to ask Oliver what shape that could take.
“You really did your homework, we don’t even talk publicly about the blockchain work,” jokes Oliver. “We think that trust and transparency are key factors in our ecosystem, particularly as it relates to financing both farmers and tractor owners.”
“You have to understand, in the markets we operate, you don’t necessarily have the strongest regulatory environment and land rights; understanding exactly who is working the land, what they’re doing on that land, and storing that data in a way that ensures trust is really important. It has a lot of value, so we think that the blockchain can unlock some of that value – but we’re still very much in the experimental stages.”
While the company is currently focused on emerging markets, IoT News wanted to get Oliver’s thoughts on the appetite for such technology in more developed markets.
“The name of the game in our business is asset utilisation, so anybody who owns a tractor and needs to maximise their ROA can see the benefit in Hello Tractor technology,” says Oliver. “We started in emerging markets because within these markets farmers are struggling: they can’t afford to own a tractor, much less have a tractor sitting idle, so our technology is valuable within these environments.”
Countries like Africa have a wealth of natural resources when it comes to food production, but often a lack of means to harness it. Oliver highlighted during a speech at Progress NEXT 2019 that concerns about global food supplies are increasing so helping farmers in such markets to meet the demand has benefits for everyone.
“This is where the food will come from,” Oliver said.
Oliver has an impressive CV. A particular highlight in his career so far was being appointed under the Obama Administration as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa, where he chaired the technology subcommittee. Now he combines that knowledge of new technologies and the difficulties faced by agricultural workers in developing markets to solve real-world problems.
You can watch our full interview with Oliver below:
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