Irish firm creates ‘electronic safety bubble’ for vulnerable on farms

Company aims to improve safety on farms with its wearable device and app

Despite ongoing efforts to raise awareness around the importance of farm safety, fatalities on farms still account for a significant proportion of workplace deaths in Ireland. The most vulnerable groups are those under 16 and over 65.

AgriGuardian is a soon to be launched IoT device designed to protect them and make farm deaths a thing of the past. AgriGuardian co-founder James Power got the idea for the device when he was studying for an advanced certificate in agriculture at Kildalton College in Kilkenny in 2017.

“In an age when the health and wellbeing of animals, and even the soil, are being monitored more closely than the wellbeing of the farmer, I felt there had to be a better solution,” says Power, who comes from a farming background and studied aeronautical engineering before completing a master’s degree in business management and spending seven years in aircraft leasing.

Initially, Power thought the target group for AgriGuardian would be lone adult farm workers – and he will be addressing that market separately next year. However, he quickly discovered that protection for youngsters and older folk was the more immediate need and started there instead.

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Recognising that most 12- to 16-year-olds (and quite a few older adults) already have smartphones, Power has developed an app version of AgriGuardian for this group while there is a wrist-worn version for six- to 11-year-olds and older folk who don’t have a mobile.

The device is linked to a “guardian” – such as a parent or, for older people, a child or neighbour – and it protects in three ways:

– it can send alerts if the wearer is in the vicinity of a potential danger such as a slurry pit or in an area of the farm that has been pre-defined as unsafe;

– it will give the guardian, who may be preoccupied operating a piece of machinery, a loud proximity warning if the wearer is approaching them;

– it can virtually tether a vulnerable individual and alert their guardian if they stray beyond a certain point.

Accidents

"The alerts are large and fill the guardian's full phone screen and give very specific information such as 'James has left the house', so the guardian knows to be on the lookout for them. The alerts are not just push notifications. They require acknowledgment," says Power, who has recently completed the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme at LIT.

“The main causes of injury and fatalities on farms are accidents with machinery, drowning, slurry gases and falls. Delving further into these incidents, we discovered that in many cases it was a lack of awareness of the whereabouts or presence of a vulnerable individual that was the cause,” Power says.

“Farming is unique in that dangers move. Our system is designed to effectively put an electronic safety bubble around the user while the anchoring feature ensures that even the most curious can’t stray too far.

“People are very used to interacting with technology that monitors their wellbeing so we feel our timing is right,” Power adds. “We have also put a lot of thought into designing a device that incorporates key features, such as ease of use, integration into everyday life and cost effectiveness.”

The company’s addressable market for its launch product will be vulnerable adults and the more than 500,000 youngsters aged 16 or under living on farms in Ireland, Britain, Germany and France.

AgriGuardian has cost in the region of €100,000 to develop and the company, which was a recent winner in the InterTradeIreland seedcorn competition, has also been supported by Enterprise Ireland. Its revenue model is subscription based.

AgriGuardian will be launched in Ireland this summer, at which point the company will launch a funding round of €500,000 to scale the business into Britain, Germany and France. Ultimately, Power has his sights set on also conquering the Australian and New Zealand markets.