Still Searching For Kids To Help With Tractor Safety

By Chris Earl, Reporter

Callum Ferrer, 5, of Iowa City, sits in the cab of a John Deere 7920 tractor during the Move It, Dig It, Do It! event at Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2006. Children were able to climb into large farm and construction equipment and emergency vehicles during the event, which was organized by the Iowa Children's Museum.

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By Liz Blood

CORALVILLE, Iowa - As Tim Brown demonstrates a John Deere 7920 simulated tractor, the cameras watch his every twitch. His every move.

"We get the subject in the simulator cab," said Brown at the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Coralville. "It's all instruments so everything they might touch, where it is the pedals, shifter, implement controls, the power takeoff."

Plus the cameras track the children who work the controls of the indoor simulator, surrounded by moving graphics in all directions.

"We have cameras that monitor them, including two eye-tracking cameras that allow us to look at where they are looking at during a given time."

Brown is in the middle of a major research project to try and see, through the eyes and movements of children, how they operate farm machinery, such as a tractor. The 7920 has plenty of controls to stimulate the thought process of a teenager.

Now he just needs the teenagers. And children still in the pre-teens.

"We're trying to get 88 kids between the ages of ten and 17 enrolled," said Brown. "The younger they are, the more excited they are while the teens mainly take it in stride."

While the 7920 is a simulator with indoor conditions, the outdoor work of real farming features many more variables. Weather. Animals. Equipment.

The three oldest brothers in the Gregoricka family spent an afternoon last month in Coralville, serving as subjects inside the simulator.

Joe Gregoricka, 16, is the oldest of five children at the family's dairy farm in rural Springville. He said the 7920 was "pretty realistic".

"I started (operating a tractor) when I was 11," said Joe. "I think it's been pretty important since there is room for safety everywhere. I'm glad I could be a part of it."

David, 14, and Mark, 12, also hopped inside the cab to test their skills. Their mother, Karen, also marveled at the realism of the simulator's graphics during their visit.

"I thought it was best when I was driving," said Mark. "It was very lifelike and I forgot it was a simulator."

Brown said on Thursday that the researchers have gathered the information from more than half of the group they are seeking. He added the entire process takes about two hours, start to finish, with about 30-45 minutes spent behind the wheel and operating the simulator.

Contact Information: Dr. Tim Brown is looking for children between the ages of 10-17 with tractor experience. The Driving Participant Hotline is: 319.335.4719. Email: nads-recruit@uiowa.edu

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