Modern Farmer has a piece on the future of prosthetics for farmers—apparently an under-addressed research area, with particular injury risks to consider and special material requirements for their design and manufacture. Rose Eveleth talks to David Blum, a farmer who uses a prosthetic leg daily after an injury required an amputation.
For Blum, and farmers like him, the road from injury to working again is riddled with challenges – from finding a doctor who understands farming, to finding a device that can withstand the work, to keeping that device in working order. While high-end prosthetics are advancing by leaps and bounds, devices that can hold up to farming remain elusive. And the need is strong, as farming remains one of the most dangerous professions around. In 2013, the fatality rate in the U.S. was 26.1 per 100,000 workers, making it #8 on list of risk of injury or death. In the U.K., it topped similar rankings as most dangerous industry.
There are interesting opportunities here, engineering-wise. Some are for better wearable devices, but there are also efforts to rethink risks and benefits in agriculture at the systems level.
Therese Willkomm, an assistive technology researcher at the University of New Hampshire rattles off a wish list: "titanium wrist and elbow units that don't break, cables that won't fray, quick release harnesses, a foot that bends when it gets caught in weeds, moisture control and protection during cold or hot weather, a prosthetic leg that allows a farmer to kneel." But she also points out that it's not just the prosthetic that could get better – the farms can too. The less a farmer has to climb up and down their tractor, or jump fences, the longer their prosthetic will last and the less likely the farmer is to get injured. The National AgrAbility Project provides funding to help farmers outfit their farms with new technologies – things like GPS sensors, automatic hitching devices and motion detectors for fences.