Tractor simulator studies farm safety

Published: Mar. 7, 2019 at 7:23 AM CST
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Farming is the most dangerous domestic job in the United States, nearly a hundred agricultural workers are injured every day. In particular, operating large, heavy machines can hurt or kill farmers but researchers at the University of Iowa are trying to learn more to save lives.

Ph.D. candidate Kayla Faust with the National Advanced Driving Simulator shows off a John Deere 7950 tractor model simulator. She is using it to try to make farming safer.

She hops in the seat and starts driving, "They've been shown to be sufficiently realistic to kind of simulate the real world environment. And so that means we can actually use them to study whether age has an effect on their driving, medications have an effect."

For this particular study, a farmer is asked to perform a common task, drop off the tractor for a neighbor or family member at another farmstead.

Faust says they look for specific incidents, "What aspects make it more or less likely to have a crash? Or what we can do to help prevent those crashes or make them less severe if they were to occur."

They try to add as much realism as possible. The sound can get up to 82 decibels, speed is capped at 20 miles per hour, and programmed surprises have people darting across the road. Faust herself slams on the breaks to avoid a simulated child.

The simulator lets her test real-world situations without hurting anyone.

The study is at the National Advanced Driving Simulator in Iowa City, which hosts a multi-million dollar simulator where hundreds of research projects are going on. But for Faust, she needed to make it more accessible to farmers.

So she designed a new simulator that runs off a single PC, "Which means we can take it to farmers, rather than make them come to us."

But this isn't a video game. Faust wants realism to help show farmers there are safer ways to drive.