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Apex.OS for agriculture – Navigating the future of farming

by Martin Petrov

Automation in agriculture is evolving rapidly, driven by the need to increase efficiency, productivity and sustainability. The core of these advances is a series of software development trends that pave the way for innovations and support of existing technologies:

  • Precision agriculture and extensive data analysis: Use data to enhance decision-making, optimize inputs for field management, and maximize output.

  • Artificial intelligence: Predictive analytics for planning and risk management. Increased assistance for planting, monitoring, health analysis and real-time solutions for farmers.

  • Smart farming and IoT: Gather data from multiple sources, make it accessible remotely, and enhance the monitoring and management of agricultural machinery, fields, and overall operations. Facilitate communication and coordination among all agricultural equipment to streamline activities and improve efficiency.

  • Robotics and automation: Automate processes, reduce labor needs for complex tasks and improve reliability and precision in different conditions.

  • Cloud computing and scalability for SW development: Leverage cloud computing to process, store and monitor a vast amount of data with scalable solutions that allow farmers to rely on easy-to-use platforms/tools. 

Beyond sophisticated tractors and implements, several emerging use cases are being developed and deployed in smart and precision farming:

  • Autonomous vehicles/machines with assistance driving or self-driving capabilities. 

  • Harvesting robotics to handle delicate tasks with increased precision and efficiency.

  • Automation for planting and seeding.

  • Predictive maintenance and updates to maintain efficiency with the farm infrastructure.

  • Remote operations and interaction with the equipment via user-friendly Human-Machine-Interface (HMI)

Figure 1: Automation use cases in farming by John Deere, American Robotics, AGROBOT, and Fendt Xaver

All of the systems addressing the above use cases require sophisticated automation software. Such software needs to be easy to use and provide communication mechanisms between the devices and the end-user interfaces - enter the world of a Software Development Kit (SDK) for such systems. The Robot Operating System (ROS) is the world’s leading and most popular open-source solution, and Apex.AI offers a commercial and production-ready implementation called Apex.OS. 

Apex.OS addresses the following challenges in the agricultural sector:

  1. Limited software development expertise: The agricultural sector has great potential for growth in software development, as it often needs large, specialized teams dedicated to this area. This current scarcity means that valuable resources, which could otherwise advance application development, are diverted to creating and maintaining custom middleware and frameworks. By adopting advanced, ready-to-use middleware and SDK solutions such as Apex.OS, agricultural businesses can free up their teams to focus on developing specialized applications that drive customer value directly to the field. 

  2. Dealing with legacy systems and extended lifecycle product support: Agriculture is burdened with legacy systems that require extensive maintenance. These systems drain resources and hamper innovation. Advanced middleware can integrate seamlessly with new and existing hardware, breathing new life into legacy systems while ensuring they remain functional and practical for more extended periods.

  3. Leveraging tooling and off-the-shelf components: The availability of off-the-shelf components and tooling from other industries, like automotive, presents a unique opportunity for agriculture. Advanced middleware platforms can facilitate the integration of these components, simplifying the technological landscape and reducing costs. They not only make cutting-edge technology accessible but also standardize development practices across the industry. Open-source components and an excellent ecosystem network of suppliers greatly accelerate development time.

Overcoming pricing challenges and embracing digitalization

The agricultural sector is influenced by technological advancements seen in the automotive industry to meet price demands. Central to this is the adoption of software-defined machines (SDM), which substantially changes agricultural machines' electronic/electrical (E/E) architecture to meet new demands. 

Figure 2: SDK-like abstraction by Apex.OS within the agriculture industry

This strategy involves adopting readily available, pre-made electronic control units and other automotive technologies that have already been proven in the field. Utilizing these components accelerates the readiness and development of new machinery while ensuring high reliability and reducing the need for custom solutions.

While these advancements offer significant benefits, they pose distinct challenges for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). The demand for a mature software toolkit equipped with robust safety and security features is critical in the agricultural sector, where machinery often has a longer service life than in other industries. This toolkit must also support long-term maintenance and future scalability to adapt to evolving vehicle technologies. Additionally, ensuring interoperability among diverse implements and resolving compatibility issues with legacy software from various suppliers is essential for modern farming across various agricultural applications.

Thus, advanced middleware and robust SDKs are more than just tools; they are the fulcrum on which the agricultural sector can build toward significant technological advancements. These solutions provide the necessary infrastructure with building blocks.

Apex.AI’s roots in agriculture

At Apex.AI, agriculture is deeply rooted in our team's personal and professional histories. Our founders, key technical leaders, software developers and business strategists bring a wealth of experience from the agricultural sector. This background ranges from hands-on farming operations to pioneering agricultural technology innovations (see Figure 3).

The starting point is the Robot Operating System (ROS), which has emerged as the primary software development kit (SDK) for robotics, underscoring its significance in modern farming technologies. It's the go-to software toolkit for many developers, bringing modularity and a wealth of community-driven enhancements. This allows for quicker, more thoughtful development of farming automation that can handle the complexities of the field far better than traditional systems. One of the significant advantages of ROS is the existing community support and available resources with knowledge compared to legacy or proprietary software solutions.

The multi-purpose and reconfigurable platform Bonirob.

Deepfield Robotics created the Deepfield 4D-Scan platform for phenotyping.

Deepfield Robotics has been converted into Farming Revolution GmbH, which offers mechanical weeding services on demand.

Figure 3: Apex.AI engineers have contributed to these ag projects, building complex agricultural machines

ROS is proving to be a transformative force in agricultural software development and prototyping. Its comprehensive suite of tools and collaborative ecosystem drives innovation and paves the way for more efficient, sustainable and productive farming practices. Several agricultural ventures have successfully implemented ROS in their operations. For instance, companies specializing in autonomous weeding robots use ROS to handle real-time data processing and path planning, ensuring precise weed targeting without damaging crops. Similarly, ROS has been instrumental in developing advanced navigation systems for self-driving farm vehicles, enhancing their ability to operate safely and efficiently across diverse agricultural landscapes. See Figure 4 for examples of Blue River Technology, Bear Flag Robotics, Burro, and Iron Ox

Agriculture / Industrial companies are members of the ROS-Industrial consortium.

Many companies are using ROS in the development of their Smart Farming applications.

Figure 4: The farming industry is using ROS today

Apex.AI is part of the ROS community and one of the key contributors. Its unique and first-on-market ROS 2-based middleware solution is usable in production systems, ensuring safety and security. Agriculture industry companies such as AGCO, KRONE, LEMKEN, and others back it up.

Apex.AI also participates in a German government-funded research project advancing software for industrial machines named POV.OS. You can find more information in this blog post.  

Apex.OS: The pivot point for software-defined agriculture

Apex.OS is an SDK consisting of two independent but integrated technologies: Apex.Ida is the middleware that ushers data through the system and Apex.Grace is the application interface developers use to write software that produces and consumes the data—initially, Apex.OS targeted purely automotive applications, but in the last few years, we’ve recognized the growing anticipation in the agriculture industry to embrace the wave of new technologies.

Apex.OS provides a unified, scalable software development kit environment that accelerates the creation of application software for all mobility verticals (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Apex.OS is broadly applicable in the ecosystem

This platform supports out-of-the-box features essential for a competitive edge:

  • Certifiable code: Ensures compliance with the highest safety and security standards, essential in agricultural operations.

  • Best-in-class performance: Optimized and configurable such that it handles multiple sensors and data streams efficiently.

  • Faster development cycles: Developers focus more on innovation and less on reinventing foundational elements; focus on breakthroughs rather than the basics.

  • Enable continuous development and integration: Support ongoing product development across different models and platforms, facilitating over-the-air (OTA) updates and connectivity for seamless field operations.

  • Supporting diverse processing units: The middleware adapts to various SoCs, providing a consistent and efficient SDK for application development.

As the agricultural sector moves towards more centralized and sophisticated computing architectures, Apex.AI is uniquely positioned to lead this transition by fostering code reuse and providing flexibility in how the system is designed and implemented.

Below is a snapshot of the specialized features supported for agriculture and why they matter:

Seamless integration with industry protocols

  • ISOBUS (ISO 11783): Apex.Ida supports high-level APIs that simplify communication and control of ISOBUS-compliant implements. It also supports standard data structures such as field layouts and control points.

  • UDS Diagnostics (ISO 14229): Enhance vehicle diagnostics adhering to ISO 13400 standards (DoIP). Please check our blog post for more details on how we leverage UDS.

Support for legacy systems

  • Apex.Ida also supports established protocols like SOME/IP and CAN (FD, J1939 and NMEA 2000), ensuring that any machinery can benefit from modern software capabilities with minimal modifications.

Safety standards compliance

  • In adherence to ISO 25119, we ensure that the safety-related parts of control systems are robust and reliable. This is crucial as it aligns with the synergies found in ISO 26262 used in automotive applications, allowing us to provide certifiable solutions tailored to the agricultural sector.

Custom tailored solutions

  • We understand that each agricultural operation is unique. That’s why we offer tailored solutions and support for custom applications that meet specific needs (new ECU support, Data analytics, V&V integration, custom Application SW features,…). Contact us for more information if you want to leverage advanced technology in your agricultural machinery.

Apex.OS ecosystem

Apex.AI is at the forefront of creating an extensive partner ecosystem, involving collaborations with leading companies in perception technology and data management platforms. These partnerships are crucial for integrating comprehensive sensor data and implementing effective data analytics, and they are pivotal for modernizing agriculture and achieving optimal field management.

A complete ecosystem is essential for developing a comprehensive software-defined machine on a platform that supports cross-domain applications on multiple hardware ECUs.

Figure 6: Apex.OS ecosystem

We collaborate with specialized partners to deliver comprehensive product solutions and work alongside global customers to refine and enhance our offerings.

Our advanced ecosystem and testing infrastructure enable us to support our customers in creating a closed-loop testing environment (end-to-end pipeline and V&V), optimizing time and enhancing product efficiency throughout the development process: (See Figure 7)

Figure 7: From code to road to feature in hours through continuous development

Figure 8 illustrates an example cross-domain machine platform highlighting how our product interacts with various hardware platforms to deliver a cohesive and efficient system. The cross-domain representation serves as a guide to highlight our solution's comprehensive support and integration capabilities, designed to meet the diverse needs of the agricultural industry.

Figure 8: Architecture for agriculture with Apex.OS

Understanding the total cost of ownership and development

When considering implementing new technology in agricultural machinery and software development projects, understanding the total cost of ownership (TCO) and the development process is crucial. The Apex.OS SDK provides a comprehensive solution that simplifies the development lifecycle and significantly reduces costs from prototype to production.

Streamlined implementation and cost savings: By adopting Apex.OS, agricultural equipment manufacturers can replace many other previously required middleware and tools. This consolidation reduces at least twice the cost typically associated with moving from prototype to production software. The ability to reuse the same development environment throughout various project stages further enhances cost efficiency and shortens development timelines and engineering efforts.

Integrated verification and validation: Apex.OS comes fully integrated with an extensive ecosystem of partners, offering ready-to-use verification and validation (V&V) capabilities. This integration is available out of the box and minimizes the engineering effort required on the customer's side by reducing the complexity and resource allocation typically needed for V&V processes, Apex.OS enables manufacturers to focus more on application development, use-case and customer focus on innovation and less on process management and infrastructure.

Simplification leads to cost efficiency: Comparing the costs of acquiring middleware solutions from Apex.AI versus managing a complex array of providers reveals significant advantages. The simplicity of having a single, comprehensive solution accelerates development cycles, enhances flexibility, and ensures a robust quality product. Over the long term, this approach reduces direct costs and minimizes the potential for integration issues and delays that can arise from managing multiple vendors. There are a few takeaways from the automotive industry with recent delayed programs due to the complexity of suppliers and underrated software expertise for middleware development and integration.

Maintenance and long-term cost benefits: Maintaining a middleware solution like Apex.OS is notably lower than the alternatives—whether purchasing a few building blocks from various providers or developing a middleware in-house. By partnering with Apex.AI, OEMs leverage Apex.AI’s expertise in developing specialized products tailored to their needs, avoiding the substantial investments required to build and maintain a comparable infrastructure internally. Additionally, this strategy mitigates the risks associated with technological obsolescence and system integration, ensuring that the OEMs can remain focused on their core business areas.

In summary, OEMs can achieve significant cost reductions, streamlined development processes and a lower total cost of ownership. This strategic decision not only optimizes financial resources but also positions agricultural businesses to take full advantage of emerging technological opportunities with greater agility and less risk developed by the community for the community.

Join us on the journey

The future of software-defined agriculture is here, and technology is rewriting it. At Apex.AI, we’re not just developing the middleware and SDK; we’re crafting the digital backbone that will carry agriculture robotics into a new era of efficiency and productivity. Contact us for more information and demonstrations of our products.

The market is shifting, and by 2027, software-defined agricultural applications will be introduced to the market. Join us and help farmers around the world thrive.



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