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Planned Obsolescence: StarFire GPS Modules

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  • Planned Obsolescence: StarFire GPS Modules

    Greetings fellow makers & breakers 👋

    I’m Sick Codes and last month I was introduced to precision agriculture.

    Here’s some of my recent research into Implement Research:

    However, I wanted to shed light on a serious but overlooked issue currently afflicting farmers.

    The dilemma is in terms of GPS, which is essential for precision farming. Farmers use automated steering, in fact they rely on it.

    Effective January 1, 2021, John Deere deprecated the Starfire ITC GPS Receiver.

    This is actually due to the US Government plan to deprecate older, less accurate GPS satellites, in favor of more accurate, reliable, and safe signals.

    It is akin to http vs https.

    The problem is, it’s not due until 2023...?

    See section 3.2.8 or read below

    “Discontinuation of Codeless and Semi-Codeless GPS Access3”

    “The USG commits to maintaining the existing GPS L1 C/A, L1 P(Y), L2C, and L2 P(Y) signal characteristics that enable codeless and semi-codeless GPS access until at least two years after there are 24 operational satellites broadcasting L5. Barring a national security requirement, the USG does not intend to change these signal characteristics before then. Twenty-four satellites broadcasting the L5 signal is estimated to occur in 2024. This will allow for the orderly and systematic transition of users of semi- codeless and codeless receiving equipment to the use of equipment using modernized civil-coded signals. Note that it is expected that 24 operational satellites broadcasting L2C will be available by 2020, with the corresponding ground segment control capability available by 2023, enabling transition to that signal at this earlier date. Civilian users of GPS are encouraged to start their planning for transition now.”

    According to Sloan, who have 20 stores in Illinois and Wisconsin;

    “Unfortunately, we are in the same position as our customer’s and we currently have too many Starfire ITC receivers in stock, so we can no longer accept trades.”

    This dealer can’t even accept trade-ins any more, which is common in agriculture equipment dealing.

    Oddly, the devices can still receive WAAS, however, they cannot perform automated steering.

    “The ITC is supposed to still be able to use the WAAS signal, but WAAS is not compatible with autotrac.”

    You can already guess what someone did.

    They tricked the module into thinking it is receiving SF1 (GLONASS) as opposed to WAAS, while still receiving WAAS.

    WAAS is less accurate, in fact some farmers can’t use it, because it’s too inaccurate for their product.

    Torriem made a GPLv3+ project that extends the lifespan of the bricked devices. Meaning it will continue to work until sometime between 2024 and 2026, depending on when the new GPS rollout is complete.

    So why did Deere deprecate the module in 2021?

    One on hand, the DoD is deprecating older signals in favor of newer signals, which is fair but as I write this, farmers have bricked devices.

    WAAS is still received, but not used for autotrac. It’s kind of like using a FitBit as a flashlight. Oh and the market price of the older Starfire dropped to $100 overnight.

    However, the issue isn’t that simple: both Defence related as well as commercial. There are elements of accuracy and farmer data privacy, but also about national security.

    It’s more or less the same as http vs https, however, the manufacturer is jumping early, way too early.

    One company made a bolt on module that tricks the device into thinking it’s receiving SF1:

    But farmers can also create their own:

    WAAS is expected to work until 2026. 5 years from the date of planned obsolescence...

  • #2
    Thank you for this writeup! I didn't realize the issues with GPS and I'm glad that there is an open source solution.


    • #3
      this is awesome !


      • #4
        i want to share this great work with som ag folks may I ?


        • #5
          Go for it! hdanielson


          • #6
            So here's the hack part:

            SF1 is the higher accuracy signal, and the WAAS steer module tricks the autotrac by

            data->bytes[4] = 0x40; //indicate that the receiver is set to SF1`
            //the second byte is the signal strength bar graph indicator
            data->bytes[3] = 0x46; //WAAS, so pretend SF1, medium accuracy
            data->bytes[3] = 0x43; //3D+ so pretend SF1, low accuracy
            It's quite cool and easy to follow, neat hack for a massive amount of currently bricked devices.

                //most significant byte indicates the signal type the GPS has
                signal_type = data->bytes[3] >> 4;
                if (signal_type < 4) { //if we don't have SF1, pretend we do
                    data->bytes[4] = 0x40; //indicate that the receiver is set to SF1
                    //Serial.println("DEBUG: Steer with low-quality signal.");
                    //the second byte is the signal strength bar graph indicator
                    if (signal_type > 1)
                        data->bytes[3] = 0x46; //WAAS, so pretend SF1, medium accuracy
                        data->bytes[3] = 0x43; //3D+ so pretend SF1, low accuracy
                //otherwise we'll let it through as is


            • ¥ungCastr0
              ¥ungCastr0 commented
              Editing a comment
              This is really neat! Will have to try when I get access to a machine again.

          • #7
            As a farmer with no previous experience coding, would someone be willing to walk me through doing this to an ITC receiver?