Adam Keene is a Farmer’s son from Berkshire who made a name for himself back in 2017 when his company Agricision launched the award winning onTrak GPS guidance system. Simon Henley recently caught up with Mr Keene, who reveals how he came to develop onTrak and how the product has progressed since its launch.
Born and raised on a 16 hectare small-holding near Maidenhead in Berkshire, Adam Keene was raised by parents with a keen work ethic and a determination which would influence him throughout his formative years. His father was an electronics engineer who tended the family farm in the evenings and on-weekends, but designed telecommunications test equipment during the working week.
“Dad’s influence with technology made an indelible impression on me from a young age,” says Mr Keene. “I liked farming, but when I finished my A-levels in 2008, although I had an open mind I did not have any particular goals.
“Initially, I went to work for an agricultural contractor operating machinery. I also worked with a vet in Argentina. Following this I decided to attend the University of Reading (RU), where I studied agricultural business management.
“During the third year of the course, we started focusing on farms and estates where we were set fictitious business challenges. This type of work inspired me, and as a member of the team at RU we competed against other Universities around the UK in a competition hosted by the Institute of Agricultural Management. I was delighted when our team won, but more importantly it was during this time I had the inspiration to come up with an idea for a simple GPS guidance system.
“Back then GPS technology was very expensive and only large farms could afford it. I started to wonder how I could produce an affordable GPS system. Why couldn’t a guidance system use a simple phone app with an external GPS receiver?”
Mr Keene started to investigate this for his final year dissertation. “I ponded whether it was technically possible to produce a smart phone app for this purpose, and whether or not there was a market for this type of device and discussed why a farmer would want to buy my system over a larger and more expensive, dedicated GPS system.”
Mr Keene’s research proved his idea was possible, and for his efforts he was awarded a degree with first class honours. Having graduated, he quickly took a position with a large contracting firm as a business development manager. In reality, this position was a hard selling role and he soon decided that being his own boss was the only way forward.
Once he had made the decision to go it alone, Mr Keene set up Agricision as a limited company and started looking for potential products to develop. Once again he came back to the GPS guidance system, so he decided to take the project one step further by developing a design which was portable, easy to install and easy to use.
To help finance the project, Mr Keene took a job driving an articulated horsebox for an international polo team which travelled throughout Europe. It was during this time while meeting a friend from RU, that he was introduced to another person who had successfully launched his business venture through a start-up accelerator program. This was essentially a privately sponsored international competition for young entrepreneurs.
Having presented his idea to the necessary people, Agricision was accepted onto the program and it was from this point on that the development of his GPS guidance system really made progress.
“The enthusiasm and support I received not only from the team but also my father was overwhelming,” he says. “The engineering team involved companies from Cambridge and Reading and we were given free office space in London to use for 12 months. It was during this time I developed the software in collaboration with a software engineer.”
Mr Keene’s goal from the word go was to make the device look like a professional tool and not like something he had made at home. “We went to great lengths to perfect the design, which, for example, was deliberately raised so it would straddle the marker line found in the centre of most tractor bonnets.
“I also wanted it to be versatile so it could be used on an ATV while applying slug pellets or on the bonnet of a 300hp articulated tractor pulling a cultivator. Believe it or not, today we actually have a customer in France using an onTrak receiver on a horse. That is how versatile the onTrak is.”
The development of the onTrak system was finally taking shape, however, there were two major hurdles which Mr Keene and his team had to clear before they were home and dry. The first of these was finding the money to pay for the injection moulding tool, which was required to produce the onTrak’s plastic enclosure. The second, was hoping Apple would approve the software for the Agricision onTrak app.
“It took Apple three days to approve our application after submission,” says Mr Keene. “It was unquestionably the most worrying part of the whole process. Our goal was to attend LAMMA 2017 at the East of England show ground. If Apple had not approved our app to use on iPhone /iPad, we would have had to address their concerns before we could move forward and start selling the product.”
Prior to attending the LAMMA Show in January 2017, Mr Keene had never attended LAMMA or exhibited at a show. The cost of being an exhibitor added to the company’s already tightly-stretched budget and as Agrcision welcomed farmers to its stand just a few moments after the gates opened, the company had yet to sell a single onTrak unit.
“We only had prototype units on display,” he says. “However, we promised those people who were interested in the system that we would deliver any pre-orders made at the show by March. In two days we took fifteen fully pre-paid orders.”
After a long first day at LAMMA, as the gates closed Mr Keene drove to London where he attended an award ceremony for the start-up accelerator program. Agricision had made it through every heat of the competition and that night the company became the recipient of a Golden Award and won £10,000 in prize money.
“The prize money paid for the final instalment of the injection tool,” says Mr Keene. “Finally, we were now up and running with orders coming in and money going in the bank. To add even more credibility to our endeavours, the onTrak system won a LAMMA 2017 Innovation Award.
“The day after LAMMA, I was at Punchestown in Ireland where I met Irish farmers and dealers who had contacted us on Facebook. There was huge interest in the onTrak system and orders immediately started coming in. Within three days of launching onTrak we were selling it in two different countries. It was an exceptional moment.”
So what is happening with onTrak today? “The big news is that onTrak is now approved for use with an Android smart phone app. That means users do not have to buy an iPhone or iPad if they do not already own one. We are constantly updating the software with new features and when required, correcting any fixes that need taking care of.
“One of the early problems we encountered was the GPS receiver would overload iPhones/iPads after a couple of hours causing them to shut down. The problem was the guidance graphics imaging, which shows where you have been. It updates at 10 times a second which was too much for the phones to cope with over prolonged periods. This has now been sorted.
“I am always very honest about the onTrak system. I have never tried to oversell it, in fact I have even recommended other products if I think onTrak is not suitable for a specific person’s purpose. We have also kept the price the same. It is still £675 plus VAT to everyone.
“I always tell people, technology needs maintenance like anything else. Our job is to keep the people who use the onTrak system happy, so they always feel it is a benefit to them. If our customers are happy, then I am happy.”
The Agricision onTrak system is operated through a mobile phone or tablet-based app. The system is aimed at the occasional GPS users, for tasks such as spreading fertiliser or spraying grassland, but it can also keep a straight line when cultivating.
The onTrak system is designed so it can quickly be switched between tractors. The compact waterproof box is attached by magnets on each of its four corners to the tractor’s bonnet, with the LED display facing the cab. For plastic bonnets, stick-on fixings are supplied.
The onTrak combines a GPS receiver and lightbar and is placed directly in the eye-line of the operator, to reduce the driver effort required to keep the tractor in a straight line. Once in range of the user’s phone, the onTrak device connects wirelessly to the app via Bluetooth. It requires no pairing codes and no phone signal. A solid green LED indicator on the light bar identifies a successful connection.
Using onTrak is simple. When one single green light is visible, the correct path is being followed. Stray away from the desired course and up to three red lights will show the driver which direction to steer. Battery life is rated at 24 hours of continuous use. Charging the battery is via a USB port on the onTrak device. The app automatically updates when connected to Wi-Fi. When not in use, the whole system can be quickly removed and locked in the farm office as a means of affective theft prevention.