The second annual South Dakota Technology Showcase brings together some of the country’s biggest technology companies in Sioux Falls. At last week’s convention, representatives from Tesla, AT&T, and Air Bus met with the state’s political and business leaders. The showcase explores new ideas and technology challenges facing South Dakota.
U.S. Senator John Thune says one of his jobs as chair of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is to find ways to improve South Dakota’s business climate.
“We just want to make sure that no matter where you live in South Dakota, you can pick up a wireless device or you can sit down at your laptop or your desktop computer and have access to the world and be able to conduct business. That’s the goal. To me that’s also the challenge because we have places in South Dakota that don’t have that access today.”
There are a variety of ways to connect people to the internet, but affordability in rural areas continues to be an issue. OneWeb is addressing this problem by using low orbiting satellites. Whitney Lohmeyer is a systems engineer at the company.
“We’ve come to talk to people about what OneWeb is doing in partnership with Airbus, which is we’re building a global constellation of satellites to provide broadband internet everywhere.”
She says the states isolated communities make it an ideal location to use satellites for internet. Users purchase a small terminal that provides internet access by communicating to the satellites. Lohmeyer says a global satellite constellation is cheaper than laying fiber to every remote area that doesn’t have internet. Ag producers know the difficulty of accessing internet in remote areas. Dan Noteboom is the CEO of Noteboom Implement. He’s say’s it’s important that Senator Thune acknowledge the role of technology for the states industry.
“We needed to share with John and the technology people the importance of having high speed internet, high speed cell phone coverage for our producers in rural areas because there’s some areas that don’t have it.”
As a self-driving tractor runs around a course, Noteboom explains that ag dealerships now rely on technology. They no longer simply sell and service equipment and engines. Machines now collect and interpret data.
“As most farmers know, technology’s what’s driving our industry and there’s a lot of dollars and training going into the data for our producers and the data of efficiency for these machines.”
Noteboom says accurate data is essential in lowering cost per acre. He says it’s also important in becoming the most efficient growers in the world.
“We’re planning where each seed goes and how much fertilizer we’re putting by each seed and we’re variable rating that based on soil makeup and the nutrient management that needs to be done for that seed is all being put together by what its capable of growing in. As we get more data and understand where that data’s at makes our producers more efficient.”
Noteboom acknowledges that technology in ag isn’t for everybody. Some operations aren’t large enough to justify the cost of machines that collect and analyze data. But he also says there’s never been a better time to switch. As technology improves used equipment becomes affordable.
“Some of these producers are getting into some of this technology cheaper than what you could have maybe two or three years ago because everybody was going to it and there wasn’t any used on the market because you had to buy new.”
A variety of other tech companies give people a glimpse of the future. AT&T shows a drone it calls a cell on wings. Art Pregler is the drone program director for AT&T. He says the device, which looks like a miniature helicopter, is a cell phone tower in the sky.
“It can do anything a cell tower can. The purpose here is if there’s a network outage, natural disaster, if first responders need support, or there’s an underserved area, we can bring this to the site and put it in the air up to 400 feet.”
Pregler says the drone can handle four LTE radios at the same time. The drone is tethered to a trailer that serves as a generator and secure network link. He says this drone technology replaces traditional trucks that have limited antenna heights of around 60 feet. Across from AT&T, Lake Area Technical Institute shows off its robotics program. Two mini robotic arms perform patterns similar to what you’d see on an assembly line. The robots are part of what students learn to program and build during classes.
In today’s technology landscape, most things require connectivity. Thune acknowledges there’s new technology than can help rural South Dakota achieve broadband access. But he says implementation is a problem.
“I think in South Dakota because we have such a sparse population and it’s hard and challenging at times from an economic standpoint to make the investments that we need to make to build out broadband internet access to every area of the state it’s just getting the incentives in place to do that.”
The showcase also included panel discussions about autonomous cars, cyber crime, and cyber security.