Of the challenges facing farmers, safety concerns and the threat of low crop yields rank among the toughest.
According to reports by the US Department of Agriculture, tractors are the leading cause of farm accidents—especially serious or fatal accidents. Unlike automobiles, which usually drive on roadways that have been engineered for safety, tractors travel over uneven terrain and sometimes along unsafe grades. Dangers are not always apparent to operators; common causes of rollover, for example, are driving too fast on a curve, uneven or unsecured loads, or driving too close to a ditch. Furthermore, the operator’s attention is often split between what’s in front of them and the implement behind them.
Crop yields are a critical consideration because agricultural profit margins can be tight, incentivizing farmers to utilize every square inch of farmable land, even if portions of it might be considered hazardous terrain.
To support these goals, various forms of technology—working together in the Internet-of-Things—are being leveraged and integrated into agricultural equipment to achieve new levels of accuracy. This overall effort is known as “precision ag.”
Inertial sensors can address both safety and precision. Using gyroscopes, accelerometers, global navigation satellite systems and more, inertial sensors detect changes in movement and identify a piece of equipment’s position in space. They can calculate a vehicle’s degree of angle when turning or its incline on a hillside, as well as determine its exact position, direction and speed. Sensors can also collect environmental data on wind, temperature, humidity and wind as well as soil moisture and ultraviolet index readings
Sensor data can be fed into a control system farmers can interface with using a computer, or the sensors can be directly connected to features designed into the machine. Examples include auto-steering the vehicle on a predetermined course to achieve optimal row spacing or activating a safety warning system when the tractor exceeds a safe inclination. Sensors placed on both a tractor and its attached equipment can provide feedback on how the two implements are moving relative to one another.
Installation of inertial sensors and their related systems are expected to increase across the agriculture sector within the next few years—the benefits in safety and efficiency that have already been realized in existing installations will soon make these systems standard.
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