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App-Sized Farm Safety

May 6, 2013
By: Ben Potter, Social Media and Innovation Editor google + 
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The VRPETERS smartphone app will send GPS coordinates and a locator map to an emergency contact in the event of a rollover.  

Researchers at the University of Missouri were frustrated at preventable deaths caused by tractor rollovers, so they started developing a high-tech but simple-to-use solution. Through their efforts, they have created an app called VRPETERS (Vehicle Rollover Prevention Education Training Emergency Reporting System), which has just undergone initial testing.

"We developed this app to prevent accidents and to save farmer lives," Bulent Koc, MU assistant professor of agricultural systems management, told Mike Adams in an AgriTalk interview on May 6.

Tractor rollovers are the leading cause of death among farmers, claiming an average of 250 lives each year, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Additional data from NIOSH show that one of every 10 operators will roll a tractor at least once in their career, and roughly 50% of the 4.7 million tractors on U.S. farms have rollover protection.

VRPETERS has two primary functions, Koc says – accident prevention and assistance once a rollover has occurred.

"It monitors how stable the tractor or vehicle is during its operation," he says. "If the operation becomes dangerous or unstable, it shows warning messages to the operator."

If the operator cannot react in time and a rollover ensues, the app then sends an email to the designated emergency contact with GPS coordinates and a map of the accident location, Koc says. This functionality is especially important given the rural aspect of farming.

"Often, tractors and other agricultural vehicles are operated in remote areas," he says. "An accident might happen, and the operator could be conscious but pinned under the vehicle and not have access to the phone to make a call for help. This app would do that job on behalf of the victim."

Koc says VRPETERS could also benefit other common on-farm vehicles, including snowmobiles, ATVs and riding lawnmowers – "It can be used on pretty much any motorized vehicle," he says.

Initial testing on remote-controlled model tractors is complete. After VRPETERS is fully tested on a standard tractor, Koc says he and his research assistant, Bo Liu, will look for an industry partner to market the app.

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