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Prototype Sends Rollover Alert

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.

F

ield 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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