Wearable technology is a growing trend for gadget lovers. Over the 2014 holiday season, products such as fitness and wellness trackers, watches synced to smart phones and low-impact cameras were vastly popular. The wearable industry is worth more than $11 billion and is slated to grow over the next decade to upwards of $50 billion. This is a huge market and while the industry is driven by private-use consumer demand, the technology involved is seeing new life in varied professional applications.
The construction industry continues to fight an upward battle against a reputation as a physically dangerous business. Wearable technology is beginning to take hold, providing new solutions to old problems in ways that are less invasive and more traceable. Wearable technology on the jobsite has great potential to help contractors improve both safety and efficiency.
Research and development
Development laboratories all over the country are stepping up to the challenge of construction safety hardware and software. The Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University are on the ground level. Human Conditions, a New York think-tank, is also progressing on integrated wearable solutions. By addressing the changing needs of contractors, industry culture and OSHA requirements, these organizations are custom tailoring wearable technology for use on site.
One of the major concerns of developers is the creating low-profile products. While wristbands and watches work well enough for athletes and office workers, they may be too intrusive to be viable for use on a construction site. These products must stand up to impact, dust, bad weather and other hazards while staying out of the way for laborers and site managers. Through managing these concerns, these developers are also addressing industry culture by creating products that do not stand out on the site.
To address these concerns, manufacturers are focused on integrating these products into items already typically worn onsite, such as safety vests and hard hats. Human Condition has developed these products already, with hardhats that record use, helping managers ensure that they are being worn in hazard zones. They also record impact, delivering product damage and potential physical harm of wearers to an integrated cloud. The helmet charges through an integrated solar panel on the visor. The company has also designed a vest that monitors motion, location and wearer vitals. The vest is self charging, harnessing the kinetic energy of the wearer as he or she moves about throughout the day. Safety managers, supervisors and other company personnel will be able to access this data through software onsite or back at the office.
Software plays an important role and continues to change throughout development. While data tracking is the focus of associated programs, developers and manufacturers are making improvements to increase accuracy and integrate new features. Soon this software will be easily incorporated into BIM imaging, allowing users to see onscreen where workers are in relation to design plans. This is a huge benefit for complex jobsites where employees may be working below grade, or inside a complex structure. Through the cloud, this software will be able to report what floor, room, or chamber a worker is in to improve response time in case of an accident.
While safety is the driving force behind this developing technology, wearable tech on construction sites can also be used to track efficiency. Motion sensors can detect how a wearer acts throughout a space and may even become refined enough to identify tasks such as hammering, demolition or equipment operation. Data will reflect how much time workers spend on various tasks and allow managers to reconfigure practices to improve efficiency.
Construction wearable technology is still in the early stages of development. It may be a few years before these products and systems hit the market on a broad scale, and potentially longer before these solutions become affordable for anything but very large companies. In the meantime, manufacturers and researchers continue to work in development and testing to provide solutions that help contractors improve safety and efficiency without getting in the way.