These technologies are moving the construction industry further into the 21st century.
The construction industry isn’t always quick to adopt new technologies, but a raft of wearables that can boost productivity and worker safety is making inroads. Check out five types of wearables that are starting to change how work gets done.
These suits don't exactly turn the wearer into Superman, but it might feel that way to construction workers who must hold a heavy screw gun or sheet of drywall overhead for long periods or hoist heavy hand tools over and over.
The suits, from companies including Ekso Bionics and SuitX, use a system of counterweights to transfer the stress of the load off the worker. This not only gives muscles and joints a break but allows the wearer to work longer — and get more done.
2. Personnel trackers
These handy radio frequency identification (RFID) tags can be tucked into safety vests or the bands of hard hats so managers can track workers for a variety of reasons — to verify their presence for payroll, keep them away from dangerous areas or avoid manual head counts and better estimate the number of workers needed for each phase of work.
Some systems, like spot-R's, even monitor worker trips and falls in real time, alerting site supervisors to incidents and allowing a faster response. In the event of an emergency, authorized personnel can trigger an alert on the devices to indicate that an evacuation is underway.
3. Smart helmets
Daqri's Smart Helmet lets the wearer view a construction site in augmented reality — to see the current reality overlaid with images of work yet to be completed according to the project blueprints. It also can display guided work instructions and alert wearers to safety hazards such as hot pipes (courtesy of thermal vision).
Babaali offers Bluetooth-enabled hardhats, equipped with cameras, that can transmit data back to the office or to project managers in real time, report emergencies and even detect dangerous gas levels.
4. Smart eyewear
Heads Up's glasses use sensing technology to alert wearers to potentially unsafe job site conditions, from gas leaks to impending extreme weather to excessive noise. An LED light flashes different colors depending on the severity of the hazard.
XOEye Smart Glasses offer something a little different. They come with internet-enabled cameras that feed images back to supervisors, who can monitor work and give guidance if needed. They also have microphones and speakers to facilitate two-way audio communication.
5. Smart vests and wrist bands
Wearables can monitor employees not only for their whereabouts but also their health and wellness. Caterpillar has developed the Cat Smartband, which tracks the wearer's sleep patterns. It can be used along with the company's in-cab Driver Safety System, which detects motions like the closing of eyes or sagging of the head, to indicate the worker is suffering from fatigue and may be at risk of falling asleep.
Smart vests like those made by Redpoint Positioning can track workers via RFID technology, but other vests are in development at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, that can track heart rate and body temperature and notify managers if an employee is experiencing physical distress.
With the right technology in place, it may no longer be necessary to choose between better, faster and cheaper — or safer.