Skyland Grain unveiled a new applicator simulator for the Skyland applicator program at Pratt Community College.
Students bumped up and down, ran into stop signs, wind generators and even landed on their sides but there were no injuries as they operated the newest piece of equipment Thursday morning in the Pratt Community College applicator program class.
The Skyland Grain Applicator Program at PCC unveiled an applicator simulator this week that allows students to practice both road and field operations in a simulated environment, said Aaron Murphy, Skyland Grain relationship manager.
The setup includes three 40-inch monitors, one in front and one on both the left and right sides, plus a seat with controls like the ones in the real applicator equipment. The seat is mounted on hydraulic pistons that are controlled through a computer and mimic the visual on the screens. It jars students when they go over rough ground or hit something. The controls look and operate just like the real thing, Murphy said.
“It’s like you are sitting in the cab. It’s pretty realistic,” Murphy said. “It’s not a game. It’s actual real-world situations.”
This particular simulator is the only one in Kansas and there are only 10 in existence. Skyland acquired it from a company in Illinois. It has helped make Skyland Grain an industry leader in the state of Kansas.
“We’re really excited about it. We’ve been looking for one for months,” Murphy said.
The simulator provides five scenarios. Students have to maneuver the simulated applicator down city streets and country roads with a variety of hazards, including vehicles, trees, houses, street signs and other obstacles.
In the field simulation, students have to navigate around variable ground levels, a wind turbine tower, trees, power poles and other obstacles. It records if the student stopped at stop signs, if they moved over for on-coming traffic, how efficiently they covered the crop during the spraying process and more. Students have to be aware of their surroundings while driving down the road and while using the applicator in the field. The computer program does not prevent them from making mistakes like hitting power poles, trees and wind turbine towers.
On Thursday, one student was going to fast and tried to turn but ended up rolling the applicator onto its side. Being able to make mistakes is one of the most important elements of the simulator.
“Students can train on it and not wreck a $500,000 sprayer,” said Murphy, who will train students and teachers on operation of the simulator.
At the end of each simulation, the computer scores the student on their efficiency during the training session.
“It will tell you how good or bad you have done,” Murphy said.
For now, the students have the three screens for practice but a set of virtual-reality goggles will be added later to give the students an even more intense training session.
The simulator is portable and when not in use in the PCC classroom, Skyland will take it to area high schools and use it as a recruiting tool to get youth interested in agriculture, Murphy said.
Students took turns sitting in the control seat and running a simulation. Nick Lucas said at first he was moving all over the place but get better. Once he got used to it, the controls felt pretty good, Lucas said.
Kayley Geesling said the controls felt real just like driving a real machine. Be- sides looking at the front screen, she had to watch the side screens as well. It felt like she was actually driving in a field, said Geesling who thought the simulator was a valuable teaching tool.
Brock Montgomery said the simulations were very realistic and the controls were very sensitive. It prepared students for the equipment they would have to operate on a farm today.
For student Jennna Fitzsimmons, the simulator was pretty accurate and was a really great learning experience. All obstacles need to be taken seriously. Operators need to stay calm and be prepared to know what their next move should be, said Fitzsimmons who believes the simulator will help draw students to PCC.
Ag Power instructor Ralph Williams said the simulator helps students realize the tremendous responsibility when operating an applicator.