Wearable Technology Makes Construction Safer, More Efficient
Although our equipment gets smarter each and every innovation cycle, the PPE those in the construction industry have worn hasn’t changed much over the past half-century. With the development and growth of wearables, that may soon change.
According to a report from ABI Research, the wearable market–including both consumer and enterprise devices–is expected to grow from 202 million in 2016 to 501 million by 2021. The report also estimates that, although enterprise devices work for work account for only 17 percent of today’s wearables, they will count for more than one third of 2021’s 501 million devices.
That prediction seems clear when you consider all of the benefits of wearables in the workplace. According to Rackspace, wearable technology in the construction industry can increase productivity by 8.5 percent and workplace satisfaction by 3.5 percent. And OSHA believes these devices could also help lower insurance rates and improve employee health and safety.
In an industry where we can’t often speak directly to one another–either because it’s too loud or due to long distances on the jobsite–wearables can improve communication, in addition to their promising safety benefits.
Here are some of the most interesting wearables built with the construction industry in mind. Whether they’re five years down the road or 50, they sure make the future look a bit brighter–and that isn’t just the gleam of your Lockhead Martin wearable exoskeleton.
XOEye Smart Glasses
XOEye Technologies has developed safety-certified smart glasses that can help reduce the amount of time it takes to make a decision, clearly communicate what’s happening in the field, and train new employees.
The glasses are equipped with a camera and microphone that can capture photos, video and audio, as well as make audio and video calls. The chief benefit of this hands-free system is the opportunity to call the home office–or anywhere around the world, for that matter–and relay the realities of the field, both to receive a faster decision and to communicate with expert technicians who may not be able to visit the jobsite in person. Instead, technicians receive a first-person point-of-view on the situation and can walk the wearer of the glasses on the jobsite through a solution.
The system can also be used to teleconference and record safety inspections, document the workzone, and send videos of equipment performance to the mechanic. It can also be used to capture first-person videos that can then be used for training purposes.
Unlike smart glasses like Google Glass, XOEye’s smart glasses are safety-certified to protect your eyes, in addition to enabling communication.
Spot-r Wearable Sensor
Spot-R\r is a wearable sensor from Triax that promises workers “always have a partner on the job.”
About the size of a pack of gum, the sensor must be worn on the workbelt. In the event that a worker slips, trips or falls on the jobsite, the sensor will alert your safety supervisor of the event. It then provides that worker’s general location so the supervisor can send help.
The sensor is also equipped with a self-alert button that, when held for 2 seconds, will beep to indicate that an alert has been sent to the safety supervisor. This means, if the wearer sees a safety issue, he doesn’t have to leave his workzone to find help. If the sensor beeps continuously, all personnel should evacuate the workzone immediately.
The sensors are connected using a closed, secure mesh network connecting only one specific jobsite, with no option for offsite monitoring.
Spot-r sensors can be used to check workers in when they arrive, and auto-disconnect when a worker leaves the jobsite’s network, giving supervisors a live headcount, recording of manhours, and general knowledge of workers’ positions while on the job. When the worker is no longer on the job, the sensor, which is waterproof and has a 1-year battery life, enters sleep mode.
Redpoint Positioning Safety Vest Sensors
The most high-tech part of your safety vest may no longer be its reflective tape. Redpoint Positioning is placing sensor tags within safety vests that will help workers stay safer on the jobsite.
When the wearer enters a danger zone on the worksite, whether that be an off-limits area or behind a piece of moving machinery–also denoted by Redpoint sensors–the vest will light up and sound an alarm. It will also notify the equipment operator of the wearer’s presence and instruct the operator to slow down or deactivate the machine.
The sensor will also notify the wearer’s supervisor. If a wearer continuously puts himself in harm’s way, a supervisor can outline the dangers of that activity before an incident occurs.
The sensors can also measure workers’ biometrics, including heart rate and stress.
DAQRI Smart Helmet
The smart helmet from DAQRI, Los Angeles, brings augmented reality to the industrial working world. The helmet, equipped with a camera and clear optical display, allows the user to see instructions and data visualizations overlaid on top of the real environment.
In addition to capturing photos, videos and audio, and offering live video calls, the helmet can also deliver guided work instructions on top of the user’s activity. Users will also be able to see vital stats of machinery from within the headset, like rotation speed and efficiency of a generator, the temperature of a machine, or the last time a piece of equipment was checked out by the mechanic. It’s also equipped with a thermal camera so users can visualize, passively record and analyze temperatures in their environment–from hot spots on the machinery to the temperature of the mat being laid–as they work.
The smart helmet, DAQRI’s flagship product, is already available for purchase, but DAQRI has also announced smart glasses that offer the same capabilities as the helmet in a smaller, lighter form factor, as well as the DAQRI Qube motion tracking sensor and Smart HUD for data overlays on vehicle windshields.
DAQRI has also launched its own proprietary software, DAQRI 4D Studio Suite, to enable customers to create their own work instructions and data visualizations, incorporating 3D models, videos, audio and photos, without any coding experience.
Although similar to a more mainstream solution, like Microsoft’s Hololens, DAQRI products are specifically built to withstand the demands of industrial and construction jobs.
Hexoskin Smart Shirts
Marketed towards runners, Hexoskin still has its place in the work zone. The smart shirts monitor heart rate and heart rate variability, which can be used to estimate stress and fatigue, as well as breathing rate, steps, and activity intensity.
They hold a charge for 14 hours and can capture 600 hours of data. They can be connected to a smartphone or tablet to read and analyze the data. Hexoskin shirts are also machine washable, lightweight and offer UV protection.
SolePower Work Boots
With all of these battery-powered wearable devices, you might be wondering where exactly the extra energy will come from. SolePower Work Boots aims to use your body’s own kinetic energy to power it and other smart devices, one step at a time.
The workboots can power their own location tracking device every couple of steps, which can be used to track worker hours and identify ways in which a job site could be better organized, but they can also be used to power lights, sensors, GPS devices and other wearables.
The boots could also be used to sense temperature and motion, falls and fatigue, and illuminate with every step for an added safety boost in nighttime work zones.
The U.S. Army is currently testing the technology in an effort to reduce the amount of backup batteries soldiers must carry, which often reaches 20 pounds of backup batteries per person for a one-day mission.
SolePower boots can now power one hour of talk time on an iPhone with two hours of walking. According to SolePower CEO Hahna Alexander, that’s around 10 times more powerful than a comparable wearable kinetic charger.
Myo armband is the missing link between body and brain, when it comes to head-mounted displays and smart glasses.
The touch-free, voice-free device slides onto the wearer’s forearm and enables him to use various gestures to control technology. For example, a user can extend all five fingers to snap a photo on smart glasses like XOEye, or wave his hand back and forth to move forward or backward in a training video he’s watching on, say, the DAQRI smart helmet.
ViSafe Wireless Adhesive Electrodes
Although not something your crew would wear to the job on a daily basis, ViSafe wireless adhesive electrodes from DorsaVi, London, are also worth mentioning. The devices analyze motion to create detailed movement profiles measuring proportion of time spent in challenging postures, repetition of movement, sustained movement and muscle activity.
This data, which can be captured and streamed from a person’s body to a mobile device for up to 24 hours at a time, is then run through the movement algorithm of DorsaVi to determine injury risk scores for various jobs.
Ekso Bionics Robotic Exoskeletons
You are Ironman. Or, may be…soon. For the past 10 years, Ekso Bionics has been developing robotic exoskeletons to “unlock human strength, endurance and mobility potential,” but in 2016, the company received the first FDA clearance exoskeleton for use with stroke and spinal cord injuries. In addition to its medical potential, Ekso Bionics’ exoskeletons could also greatly impact industrial markets.
For example, the company compared two workers’ productivity and fatigue levels while doing the same job–one, just a man and his jackhammer; the other, a man, his jackhammer, and an extra robotic arm to assist. The worker with the robotic arm, unsurprisingly, finished the task 25 percent faster with significantly less fatigue.
Lockhead Martin is also working on exoskeleton technologies, including its Fortis exoskeleton, which allows wearers to use heavy tools without having to bear 100 percent of the burden.