Engineering student project could save animal and human lives

University Park, Pa. -- For a special group of graduating Penn State engineering students, a spring 2010 capstone project involved something unexpected -- a 500-pound plastic horse. Davis Hill, director of Penn State Cooperative Extension's Managing Agricultural Emergencies program, came up with the idea to prepare for dealing with farm crises involving real livestock.

"I needed them to create an engineering model that would help emergency responders help livestock animals in need," explained Hill, a senior extension associate in agricultural and biological engineering.

"It is very difficult to help a large animal that has fallen into a hole or is otherwise unreachable," he said. "The animal is scared and will hurt anyone who tries to go down there to help it. Developing a lifting system is good for the animal and the person trying to help as well."

The Managing Agricultural Emergencies program trains firefighters and other emergency professionals to deal with farm-specific crisis situations, such as silo fires, barn fires and tractor accidents. In addition to fires and accidents, emergency responders get more than a few calls a year about livestock that have gotten stuck someplace where people can't reach them.

"This program is unique to Penn State," said Hill. "We teach emergency responders across the United States."

Hill does most of the teaching for the program, and he knew he could really use this lifting device. That's why he asked Kevin Jennings, William Gvazdauskas, Sang Hoon Lee and Ahmed Abu Zaid to design a system using a model horse.

The machine, which is 15 feet high and resembles a crane, was on display April 29 during the 2010 Engineering Design Showcase at the Bryce Jordan Center on campus. It was displayed with a life-sized plastic horse being lifted off the ground.

"The students ended up actually building it, instead of just creating a model," said Hill. "It only needs a little more adjustment to become a useful piece of working equipment."

In fact, it's such a clever design that Hill suggests it could be made somewhere in the United States.

"It's very useful to any emergency responders in rural areas," he said. "I could easily see it being patented and manufactured."

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Last Updated November 18, 2010