Fear and apprehension are natural responses to changes we don’t completely understand. Learning, progress, human beings, and change have been in an ebb-and-flow of ally-and-enemy as long as recorded history. Earth revolves around the sun? You’re under arrest. Medical dissection? Necromancy. Artificial intelligence? The machines will take over. We have an extensively tenuous–almost humorous–relationship with change and progress. As we move forward, industries are increasingly influenced by technological advances. Software engineered solutions will continue to rise in every industry regardless of their respective levels of technical history. In fact, technology is developing at such a rapid pace (e.g. wearable technologies), that resistance to it will prove more harmful than helpful as it widens the performance and knowledge gap between workers and the evolving demands of technically influenced job functions.
The construction industry is experiencing an influx of technological developments that influence building quality, architectural accuracy, worker safety and efficiency, project management, and construction time. Enough construction industry tech tune-ups are in place, or well on their way, that it’s difficult to summarize all of them in a single article. Generally, though often considered one of the least technical industries, the construction industry has been receptive to increased technological influences. Some of the most interesting advanced technical additions to the sphere of construction are wearable technologies. Yes, technologies that construction personnel are wearing on their bodies.
Everybody likes to joke about science fiction films when we see technology advances that were literally fake when they were cooked up for a futuristic film from the 90s. Welcome to the future. These bits of wearable technology aren’t all in full-scale use in the construction industry, but enough testing has been done that we’ll definitely see them being used more prevalently in the very near future. Let’s take a look at some wearable technologies changing the construction industry.
Wearable Technologies in the Construction Sector
Augmented Reality (AR) Safety Gear
Artificial intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR) get bundled together fairly often in the vein of unfamiliar technologies. Conceptually, they share some similarities, but in this case, they differ as pieces of wearable construction technology.
The key difference between VR and AR is a completely rendered display versus a partially rendered display. Rendered display refers to what an individual sees when they wear VR or AR equipment. VR displays a totally virtual environment, nothing physically in front of the wearer is seen. AR displays the physical world in front of the viewer and displays pieces of information the user can view along with their physical environment. Basically, a heads-up display (HUD). You see what’s literally in front of you, while your HUD displays details provided by your wearable AR device.
Since construction workers have to see what’s in front of them, VR isn’t an option. Though, the effectiveness of VR in training scenarios is still being explored as a safer alternative to onsite training. Thus, AR technologies are being integrated into pieces of everyday construction safety gear like hardhats and safety goggles. This increases useful interactivity with the physical environment and can provide advanced task-detailing, monitored safety alerts, off-site record-keeping that can be returned to and rewatching for training, troubleshooting, and real-time remote project management collaboration.
It’s tempting to think of Ironman when visualizing exoskeletons and, though we’re not quite there yet, the concept is similar. The development of wearable robotic technologies is changing the muscle soreness and strain injury game. As humans, we’re certainly a resilient species, but we’re prone to fatigue, strains, pulls, bumps, breaks, and the need for our bodies to recuperate.
Bearing either a majority or the entirety of the weight of a task, worn robotics greatly reduce the bodily stress that causes injuries and the time-consuming need for frequent breaks from physically exhausting tasks. The amount of injuries caused by overexertion is staggering. Working with robotic features as stronger extensions of the bodies and minds of construction personnel, we’re working toward stepping up safety, reducing injury, and increasing efficiency. Plus, who doesn’t want to try out a robotic arm?
Safety accessories are becoming fairly diverse and different pieces are advantageous to certain types of job sites. Tech companies are jumping into the ring, developing hardware and software that they insist will revolutionize the industry. These are some of the technologies and companies currently in the mix.
- Smart Vests – Traditional safety vests are one of the most common pieces of construction safety apparel outside of hardhats and safety glasses. Generally, they keep workers visible and are made of a hearty material to protect from errant debris. Smart vests feature GPS location and emergency alert systems. They can also be tracked in tandem with project progress to monitor inefficiency points on certain teams and inform personnel distribution.
- Boots – A company called SolePower has been developing wearable technology integrated into work boots. Complete with GPS, WiFi access, safety lighting, motion sensors, and real-time task updates to a mobile platform, they’re aiming to repurpose how we view construction site footwear. Oh, did we mention that they’re charged by the energy collected from walking? Yeah, they’re pretty cool.
- Miscellaneous – SiteZone and Spot-r have developed small, wearable systems that monitor job site headcounts, proximity alerts, and site savvy location and spatial monitoring. These are just two pieces of the advancing industry of wearable safety systems.
Are You In, Too?
Construction has been considered basic in the realm of technology for a long time. However, in recent years, the industry has been eager to embrace technological changes, implement them quickly, and reap the safety and efficiency benefits those technologies (wearable and not wearable) have to offer.
It’s important to note that technology, while it’s wonderful to see advance and flourish, doesn’t guarantee an increase in safety and productivity. Construction is an industry that’s innately bonded to human beings and technology working together. At the end of the day, it’s not to be used as a crutch and it cannot replace human competence. When bolstering the safety and productivity of a historically successful construction company with technological developments, we’ll see a safer, faster industry where builders, buildings, and technologies live harmoniously.
The construction industry needs to adapt to this new technological era, and applying wearable to improve productivity may be a good way to do it. If you liked this post, you can continue reading about the applications of IoT in this sector and the technologies that are already changing the construction industry.
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