Better system visibility could boost farm safety

Sensors help when eyes can’t see everything from a tractor seat

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Glacier FarmMedia – Canada had 843 farm fatalities between 2003 and 2012, of which 600 involved implements. More than 17 per cent of all deaths were run-overs attributed to drivers not seeing the victim.

The large implements used in farming can prevent the operator from completely seeing the perimeters of the machine. Design of modern machinery has led to significant performance improvements, but the nature and size of these machines mean operator visibility can be impaired.

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Even a small incident involving a person or object can result in lost productivity, stress, lost time or insurance claims. In extreme cases it can lead to criminal charges, according to a news release from Brigade Electronics Canada, a British-based company that specializes in safety sensing technology.

“Technology is helping to solve these issues by eliminating blind spots on machinery and assisting operators working in difficult conditions when visibility can be compromised,” according to Brigade.

“Camera systems can give drivers better visibility by providing the driver with a complete surround view of the vehicle in real time in a single image as they manoeuvre their vehicles.

“Mirrors just don’t cut it. Research shows that in the time it takes to scan four mirrors, assess and then react to hazards, a vehicle could travel as far as 33 feet.”

Building a better safety sensing system is not a matter of simply mounting four cameras to the implement and wiring them to four screens in the cab. Brigade’s Backeye 360 merges images from ultra-wide-angle cameras, resulting in a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle and surrounding area. This synthetic overall view of sewn together camera shots is presented as a single image on the nine-inch screen.

William Weidmark is an electrical engineer and the person responsible for Brigade products in Canada.

He said the Backeye 360 extrapolates information from the images and stitches them together to form a single bird’s-eye view of everything around the machine. It can be adapted to any farm implement, highway semi, grain truck, forestry machine or any other machine that may have visual safety issues.

“We’re working more with OEMs to integrate our technology into their production line products. We do stuff with Cat, John Deere and some others,” says Weidmark.

“On a typical combine install, we need only four cameras mounted around the machine. They feed images into the processor, which brings them together into a single bird’s-eye view of the combine. The driver looks at the combine and he can see the whole 360 degree scene in a blink of the eye.

“Instead of turning his head left and right and up and down looking at mirrors, he can take one glance at the screen and see everything. And he sees places he can’t see with mirrors.

“We can also do optional pictures on the screen. For example, if he’s pulling up to unload his hopper, we can have a camera up on the auger so he can see inside the truck. When the auger retracts, that extra camera turns off and it’s back to the normal 360- degree scene.”

Weidmark says the Backeye 360 has safety benefits for any farm implement with visibility issues. The same system Brigade sells to farmers is also installed on firetrucks, so firefighters can get to a fire and put the landing gear down at the right spot, on the first try. On a fire truck, this saves time and potentially saves lives.

Warren Di Marco is a safety device engineer at Brigade Electronics Canada, specializing in radar obstacle detection. He says Brigade’s continuous-wave radar technology is faster than pulsed-radar technology.

“Some detection systems produce false alerts. This leads to driver frustration, resulting in authentic alerts being ignored. Continuous-wave radar reduces false alerts because of the controlled beam pattern. This pattern can be programmed so the system owner fixes a custom detection area specifically suited to their needs. When an object is detected in that area, the driver is alerted via an audible warning and an in-cab visual display.

“Our heavy duty radar systems operate in high and low temperatures. They are waterproof against high pressure, high temperature water jets. They are dust resistant and can be easily heard in noisy environments. The radar display can either be integrated with the Backeye 360 camera system or provided as a standalone display.”

The Brigade Backeye 360 sells for $3,500.

This article was originally published at the Western Producer.

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