CAMDEN, Ind. — At Mylet Farms in Carroll County, you can pull your truck up to the grain bin and use your smartphone or tablet to activate the loading process. You can even watch a live video feed of it all on your screen.
The technology to do so was conceptualized by a Mylet family member about 150 years after his ancestors planted the first seed.
Neil Mylet is applying Silicon Valley concepts to rural Indiana, a location that serves as the inspiration for many of his ideas that he says are in turn cultivated through strong relationships. He plans to continue using them to make work safer, more efficient and to place just as much importance on the person doing the job as there is on the job itself.
Mylet Farms has been a family affair since 1863. Before the 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans became an environment in which Mylet’s innovations could thrive, it had the same effect on his imagination.
“Sitting in a tractor going back and forth, you have a lot of time to think,” the 29-year-old said.
After graduating from Carroll Junior-Senior High School, he entered the agricultural economics program at Purdue University in West Lafayette. There, he studied under voice mail inventor Scott A. Jones in the school’s inaugural entrepreneurship course.
Before Mylet would go on to become a recurring guest lecturer himself for the course, he used it to appreciate the importance of whiteboards when innovating ideas, pursuing intellectual property protection and other approaches Jones applies to his career as an inventor.
It wasn’t long before Mylet was hanging whiteboards all over his apartment and flyers all over campus soliciting the talents of computer programmers who didn’t mind getting paid partially in pizza.
“I used their talents and their perspectives and their support to build a framework for kind of a road map for how we would scale up this technology and get it moving forward,” Mylet said of his original staff. Many of those staffers went on to work for Google, Microsoft, Samsung and other tech giants.
Progress was stalled by a lack of funding and abundance of classes, but Mylet said they made strides in figuring out how to get hardware to interact with software — the underlying principle behind what would become his first major innovation.
He and the team ultimately realized technology was still a few years away from being able to turn his tractor-driving daydreams into reality. Then it took even more time to determine if there was even a place for their ideas on the market.
It turned out there was.
YellowBox was born, its name derived from the casing that houses the components administering the distribution of materials like grain and connected over a network to a mobile device. The product is assembled locally by WP Electric in Delphi. Mylet and the company’s president, Todd Price, have been friends since high school.
The very first YellowBox was installed at Mylet Farms about five years ago. Mylet recalled the process beginning at about 10 p.m. As with any other brand new technological innovation, it came with its share of bugs. He ended up killing the power to the farm’s grain system. It just so happened to be in the middle of harvest season.
“They were pretty salty, to say the least,” Mylet said of his fellow workers on the farm.
As with all of the other obstacles that arose from the very first sketch on a whiteboard, he persisted.
“I’ve learned so much by breaking things and by pushing it to its limits and trying to figure out how it can fail,” he said. “…It wasn’t so fun at the time.”
It’s a lot more fun half a decade later.
The staff at the farm uses YellowBox regularly and Mylet’s company, LoadOut, is beginning to find success selling the product across the country. He estimates 2 million bushels of grain have been poured via YellowBox nationally and looks forward to when it crosses over into other material-handling industries.
LoadOut’s team of part-time developers in Palo Alto, California, is currently working on a prototype of the YellowBox app compatible with Google Glass.
Mylet is also working with several companies to develop systems in which a worker’s attire would provide information about themselves and their environment in order to dictate industrial control.
Imagine a shirt filled with sensors that are connected over a network to equipment the user is operating, all linked to a system that has been programmed with information about what that user’s limitations are. Now imagine that user’s heart rate starts to climb toward a dangerous rate. The system would know when overexertion is occurring before the user does.
“Because of that, the system automatically knows how to adapt the process to optimize the safety of the user,” Mylet said. “In some cases that may turn things off. In some cases, it might just alert (the user).”
If ideas like those sound like the kind that get developed by big technology companies, it’s because they are.
Mylet said he has turned down lots of investment opportunities and chances to move to metropolises across the country.
A lot of people have moved away and been successful, but success is abundant in Carroll County too, Mylet said, like the success his family celebrates through more than 150 years of farming.
The community also plays a big role in the fruition of his ideas, he continued.
“Whenever I can’t figure something out, I go to the Sycamore,” he said. Inspiration often comes with one of the Logansport ice cream shop’s chocolate milkshakes. “Little things like that for me are what keep me focused.
“No matter what your circumstances are,” he continued, “if you stick to your guns and stay close to home, no matter if it’s rural Indiana or any place else, it will work and things will come together.”