Strobe lights and teenagers, it could be assumed, are associated with school balls, but St Paul’s College students have broken that stereotype by installing LED strobe lights in tractors.
Their invention, designed not to start a party but to stop a fire, had its first public showing in the Innovation Centre at Fieldays 2017.
Year 13 agriculture student and farmer’s son Jock Yarndley came up with the idea when he became aware of how big a problem tractor fires are.
“Birds can build a nest under a tractor bonnet in 17 minutes and if the farmer doesn’t check for a nest, when the tractor is turned on and the engine heats up, the nesting material can catch alight, causing a tractor fire.”
Jock put the idea of a light to stop birds nesting in tractors to a Young Enterprise group at St Paul’s and together with Sean Dykes, Luke Donaldson and Sophie Carr Patterson, formed a company to research, develop and market the concept.
The group came up with the name ‘Flash Inc’ and as well as conducting on-farm research using the light to deter birds, checked out the theory with some experts in bird behaviour.
Silvana Ground and Jock Yarndley of Flash Inc with their invention to stop tractors burning which they launched at the Fieldays Innovation Centre.
“We have spoken to the Department of Conservation and they informed us that our predictions of a strobe light deterring birds is true,” says Jock.
The product the group come up with is a strobe light which has its own power source and charging system which does not affect the tractor’s power or battery. Placed under the bonnet, the light is designed to deter any birds that try and nest in and around the engine.
“I come off a farm and know how much of a problem tractor fires are,” says Jock.
“Having to check your engine for nests before starting your tractors takes time, especially if there is a nest to clear away. If the farmer happens not to check and birds have built a nest, it is likely that the tractor will catch alight due to the dry hay which has been brought into the engine by the birds.”
Flash Inc pitched the idea to rural insurance company FMG – suggesting that the light, which costs $300, could result in significant savings in insurance claims.
$2.6m in claims
The company responded with an email which acknowledged that bird nest fires are a significant issue. FMG receives on average 37 claims per year for tractors that have caught fire due to birds’ nests, mostly during October and November when starlings are nesting.
Over the past five years the company has paid $2.6m for birds’ nest fires in tractors. FMG has also received claims for fires in big harvesters caused by nests over the years.
“While not that frequent, when a $500,000 forage harvesters gets burnt out, it’s a very expensive birds’ nest. Side-by-side vehicles are becoming more common and quads are getting bigger with enclosed engines, and we’re seeing a few more fires in these also,” the email says.
The students plan to go into production with the lights, saving insurance companies money and tractors from burning.