Radar system could make tractors and farms safer

Farms are dangerous places, where it’s all too easy for big machinery to hit people and objects. But a new radar system devised by a Cambridge firm could cut the toll of bashes, accidents and mishaps.

Cambridge Consultants already has lots of experience of the sort of radar technology used on high-end cars. It devises systems that allow cars to ‘see’ ahead up to 30m to avoid collisions, as well 3m versions that allow cars to park themselves and 1m blindspot alerts that warn drivers if they try to pull out into the fast lane when there’s already a vehicle alongside.

But its latest project, now reaching fruition, involves arming tractors and other farm vehicles with sophisticated radar to warn drivers that they are about to hit a hazard – whether that’s a farm building, tree, worker or child.

“The workload on the tractor driver is increasing all the time – there’s a lot to look out for – but we think these systems can reduce that,” says Cambridge Consultants programme director Gary Kemp. “We’ve created practical technology that’s simple to operate and install but is also low-cost and incredibly effective.”

It’s not about a single radar, either, says Mr Kemp. A typical tractor could have a radar sensor at the front of the tractor that can detect objects up to 30m away and a second one on the back checking for people up to 5m away. And both systems can operate at the same time – ideal if you have a particularly accident-prone tractor driver.

Even more cleverly, these radar systems can calculate the speed of moving objects as well as their distance. So if the combine driver is about to back into the corn cart trailer, the display will make it clear that he is seconds away from disaster. And it’s not just hard objects that will alert the system – a plastic post or bale is enough.

Another clever twist is that the radar can be hooked up to work with the sort of camera widely used on farm machinery. So, if the trailer you’re backing gets too close to the back of the barn, the radar will sound a warning first, followed by live video from the camera.

This all sounds expensive, but the company says this type of low-frequency radar is much cheaper to make than the high-frequency sort used in the automotive sector. In fact the cost of the kit is likely to be no more than that of a high-end mobile phone.

The bad news is that you can’t buy the equipment right now. Rather than offering a standalone unit that would add to the plethora of screens and black boxes in the tractor cab, Cambridge Consultants is offering the technology to tractor makers to incorporate into their cabs.

The firm will be demoing the equipment at next Saturday’s giant Agritechnica show at Hanover and is confident that tractor makers will take it on. If all goes, well, says Mr Kemp, it could be on the market in as little as 12 months’ time.

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