Harmony Brands sat down with Craig Rupp, the visionary behind Sabanto, Inc., whose career in industrial wireless technology led him back to his agricultural roots, now influencing the industry with innovative automated solutions.

“You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy” encapsulates Craig Rupp’s deep-seated agricultural roots despite his diverse career. He was raised on a farm in Northwest Iowa that cultivated corn and soybeans and raised hogs and cattle. However, his journey took a different turn, leading him to become an electrical engineer.

Rupp’s early career immersed him in industrial wireless technology, where he worked on groundbreaking projects such as strapping a satellite on an SR-71 and facilitating the first Iridium phone call. Yet, amidst these technological wins, Rupp was constantly drawn back to his agricultural roots.

His unwavering passion led Rupp to John Deere, a global agricultural equipment and solutions leader. Here, Rupp was pivotal in developing the StarFire™ receiver and Greenstar™ Display, technologies that revolutionized precision agriculture.

He eventually founded 640 Labs, a company focused on collecting agronomic data, which Monsanto Company later acquired. This acquisition further solidified Rupp’s influence in the agricultural landscape.


The Intersecting Paths of Agriculture and Automated Tech

2018 Rupp founded Sabanto, Inc. to provide simple, safe, and cost-effective agricultural technologies. The company focuses on autonomous upgrades for existing vehicles and machinery. Headquartered in Itasca, IL, most of the software engineering is performed there, while another site in Ames, IA, handles hardware, mechanical, sales, and marketing.

Leveraging his deep understanding of agriculture coupled with years of automating experience at high-volume manufacturing sites across the globe automating equipment and expertise in wireless communications and signal processing, Rupp saw an inevitable future: “It’s not an if, but when. Somebody will do it, and it might as well be me.” 

Sabanto, derived from the Japanese word servant, embodies the company’s commitment to serving the agricultural community. Rather than building automated equipment from scratch, Rupp and his team focused on improving existing machinery.

Pioneering Automation in Farming

Interestingly, Sabanto’s journey didn’t begin with turf but with soybeans. However, the company found its most significant success in the sod industry, where the demand for autonomy proved to be substantial.

Their first project involved automating a JCB 4220 tractor, demonstrating that equipment from manufacturers like Deere, Kubota, CNH, and ACGO could be effectively upgraded. This strategy not only made advanced technology more accessible to farmers but also increased efficiency and addressed modern agricultural issues, such as labor shortages.

Today, Sabanto supplies automation kits to support tractors like the Deere 5100E, 5075E, and 5100M, the Kubota M5-091 and M5-111, and the Fendt 700 Vario series. They are working on automating the Deere 61xxE series tractor, further taking advanced, autonomous technology to the farming community.

Inside Sabanto’s Revolutionary Autonomous Systems

At its core, Sabanto offers the Steward™ hardware kit, which consists of multiple components that collectively enable the automation of traditional tractors:

  1. Vehicle Mission Control (vMC): This cloud-operated system creates coverage maps and path plans while monitoring and controlling machines in real-time.
  2. Vehicle Operating System (vOS): Responsible for directly controlling the tractor during operations, the vOS monitors equipment health, detects obstacles, performs measurements from other sensors, and can stop the system when necessary.
  3. Vehicle Path Finding Module (vPFM): Essentially the system’s hardware, the vPFM includes a quad-core processor with various peripherals that interface directly with the tractor controls.

One of the critical features of the Sabanto technology is its impressive accuracy. The system is limited only by the precision of GNSS correction, achieving up to 2 cm accuracy. Safety is also paramount with a Time-of-Flight (ToF) obstacle detection system with a total of 12 on-board cameras. These sensors harness AI to detect obstacles, like humans within range, and pause the system to prevent accidents.

These automated systems can handle various tasks, including planting, seeding, tilling, rototilling, row cultivating, tine weeding, spraying, mowing, and rolling. Rupp noted that they have successfully operated a system non-stop for 48 hours cultivating corn in Hastings, NE, significantly boosting efficiency and productivity.


Farming Forward: How Sabanto is Changing the Industry

Sabanto’s automated technology has significantly benefited the agricultural industry, revolutionizing traditional farming practices. Rupp emphasized the impact of automation on labor savings and operational efficiency. 

“The two things I see whenever we deploy a system are the labor savings and how straight the paths are,” said Rupp.

Automation has not only automated mundane tasks like mowing but has also resolved labor issues common in sod farms. This innovation has enabled farms to redirect labor to more critical tasks such as harvesting and installation, improving overall productivity.

Regarding return on investment (ROI), Rupp highlighted the reduced number of tractors required on-site. With systems running up to 18 hours daily, the need for multiple tractors has decreased, leading to significant cost savings.

As automation gains momentum, the visionary behind Sabanto noted that a single employee can now oversee up to four units simultaneously, freeing up resources for other meaningful work. This increased efficiency allows more tasks to be accomplished while the systems run autonomously.

Sabanto at the Harmony Annual Growers Meeting

Looking ahead, Sabanto has partnered with Trimax and 1st Products to develop an autonomous-ready mower and Agri-vator that will interface seamlessly with their system. Sabanto will showcase these innovations at the Harmony Annual Growers meeting in January, hinting at unveiling the world’s smartest tractor with the world’s most brilliant mower.

Sabanto’s continued innovation and commitment to advancing agricultural technology promise a future where farming is more efficient, sustainable, and productive.