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Prototype Sends Rollover Alert

CHERYL TEVIS 11/14/2013 @ 1:46pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Tractor rollovers are the Achilles’ heel of agricultural safety efforts. Tractors weren’t equipped with rollover protective structures (ROPS) until 1985, and many older tractors are used to pull stumps, drive fence posts, mow ditches, and other dangerous chores. Tractor rollovers are linked to more than half of all agriculture-related fatalities in the U.S.

Not all old tractors can be retrofitted, and the cost ranges from $850 to $3,500. The risk won’t disappear until the tractors do. Two years ago, Iowa State University associate professor and chair of industrial design David Ringholz heard a radio news story about the record number of tractor rollover fatalities.

He contacted the source in the story, Kelley Donham, professor of occupational and environmental health and chair in rural safety and health. Ringholz and his graduate students delved into tractor rollover incident reports and safety systems and interviewed ag safety researchers. “We didn’t find any other industrial designers who had looked at tractor rollover safety,” he says.

He invited Jamie Horwitz, a psychologist in the department of industrial design, to add her expertise. By the end of the semester, the class focused on two strategies:

1. How to increase the likelihood that people would buy, properly install, and correctly use ROPS.

2. How to reduce the amount of time between occurrence and discovery of a rollover accident.

“We knew many fatalities would be prevented if first responders were notified immediately and arrived at the scene of the incident as soon as possible,” Ringholz says.

He obtained a two-year, $315,000 grant from the university’s strategic initiative and Extension and outreach. With assistance from the electrical and computer engineering department, they developed a tractor-mounted prototype. It monitors tractor position and sends a cellular signal in case of a rollover to a relay station where the location is mapped. EMS and family are notified.

Field trials complete

The Rural Health and Safety Clinic of Greater Johnson County, led by program manager Andy Winborn and board member Roger Stutsman, held a field test last summer for the device known as E.T.

“We’re on our third version of E.T.,” Ringholz says. “As with most technology products, each version is smaller and better. When it’s done, we’ll conduct more field tests.”

The University of Missouri has been testing an app called VRPETERS (Vehicle Rollover Prevention Education Training Emergency Reporting System).

Designed by A. Bulent Koc, assistant professor of ag systems management, and research assistant Bo Liu, a VRPETERS-equipped smartphone runs on iOS and Android. Koc says the University of Missouri team is looking for an industry partner to market the app.

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