Published on 04/28/16

CAES researcher collaborating on innovative safety system for tractors

By Kenzie Kesselring

Voice-activated tractors are the future of farming, according to University of Georgia agricultural engineer Glen Rains.

Through research on the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences campus in Tifton, Georgia, and in partnership with Georgia Tech, Rains is researching voice-activated software that will cause tractors to stop in the event of an emergency.

“Say a farmer had a heart attack or fell off of a tractor. With the voice activation, they could stop the tractor by using just their voice,” said Rains. He envisions the tractor stopping in the event of an emergency, notifying 911 and providing the farmer’s location, and alerting the farmer’s family.

The innovation consists of a series of microphones that are mounted onto the tractor. Noise cancellation devices allow the farmer’s voice to be heard over the sounds of the tractor or other piece of farming equipment. The farmer must be within 10 meters – about 32 feet – of the microphone for it to detect his voice.

“We just need to delve into more of the broader aspects – multiple types of tractors and voice types,” Rains said. “We need to test multiple algorithms for noise cancellation and voice recognition outside the tractor.”

This is challenging because the microphone is trying to pick up the volume of a person’s voice over other noises, he said. Since all voices are different, the system must be trained to recognize each distinct voice.

Rains is focusing on the mechanical parts of the device that control switching the tractor off and calling 911. His colleague, David Anderson, professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, is working on the voice activation and noise cancellation aspects of the project. Rains is also receiving assistance from the AGCO Corporation, an agricultural equipment manufacturer headquartered in Duluth, Georgia.

“When we build our first system, it will be put onto [an AGCO] tractor,” said Rains.

Rains has been working on this project for almost three years and hopes it will be ready for commercial use in another three years. His inspiration for the device came from many years of training EMTs and firefighters how to extract people caught in farming equipment. After speaking to many spouses, friends and children of farmers who have been injured, Rains sees a great need for the device.

“One of the scenarios I have heard repeatedly involves someone being grabbed by a piece of equipment and being isolated for a while before anyone knows they are caught in the equipment,” Rains said. “My objective is to develop something to keep that from happening.”

Rains is also working with AGCO Corporation on a project that uses a tractor-mounted camera to take 3-D photos, complete with GPS location, in peanut fields in order to detect where diseases initially occur.

Rains’ other farm equipment modifications include the UGA “Row-bot,” a computer-guided vehicle that checks the health of plants and fields, monitors cattle and sprays for insects. As co-director of the National AgrAbility Project in Georgia, he also modifies farm equipment for farmers with disabilities.

(Kenzie Kesselring is an intern on the UGA Tifton Campus).

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