Smartphone App Locates Injured Farmers in the Field

May 6, 2013  - By
Image: GPS World

Tractor rollovers are the leading cause of death among farmers and claim about 250 lives each year, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). These accidents are deadly because they often occur far away from farmers’ homes or roads and they may be unable to reach a phone to call for help. Now, University of Missouri researchers have developed an application for smartphones that uses GPS systems to locate farmers who have rolled their tractors.

The app, called VRPETERS (Vehicle Rollover Prevention Education Training Emergency Reporting System), uses sensors and GPS capability built into smartphones that can detect rollovers. Once the app detects a rollover, it sends an automatic emergency e-mail and phone message with the coordinates of the accident location to family or emergency responders.

“The tractor is the main power source for field operations, and tractor rollover accidents have been killing people since the beginning of their use in agricultural production,” said Bulent Koc, assistant professor of agricultural systems management at MU and developer of the app. “More and more farmers are using their smartphones to monitor weather or calculate production inputs while operating machinery. Since they already have their phones with them, installing VRPETERS could help save lives.”

Data from the NIOSH show that one out of every 10 tractor operators will roll a tractor at least once. NIOSH also notes that only half of the 4.7 million tractors on U.S. farms have rollover protection. In order to minimize false alarm rollovers on the app, Koc and his research assistant Bo Liu designed a device that must be attached to the tractor. This device helps calculate the stability characteristics of the tractor and will provide a warning to the driver when the tractor approaches its rollover point.

“Many farmers think they can jump out of their tractors in the event of a rollover, but this isn’t the case usually,” Koc said. “Side rollovers can occur in just three-quarters of a second and most people need a second or more to react to an event. So, VRPETERS can benefit farmers when a rollover occurs because they often can’t reach their phones to make an emergency call.”

VRPETERS can benefit more than just farmers, as the app also can be used on construction vehicles, trucks, snowmobiles, military vehicles, riding lawnmowers and all-terrain vehicles.

In addition to the rollover device installed on tractors and other dangerous equipment, Koc and Liu designed another device that can be used with VRPETERS. This device can be installed on vehicles and can be used as a backup to stream data to a smartphone or tablet. “With this additional device, parents or fleet managers can obtain real time data on how machines are being used,” Koc said. “If the device detects improper operation, an intervention can occur before an accident happens.”

Initial testing of VRPETERS was done using a remote-controlled model tractor. Once fully tested on a standard tractor, Koc and Liu will look for an industry partner to market the app.