The construction industry is planted firmly in the ground, building the physical infrastructure of the world. That doesn’t mean, however, that the industry isn’t affected by the 21st-century technological boom.
In fact, construction tech innovation is a thriving field that is increasing productivity, profit margins, and most of all, worker safety. Construction is a high-risk industry, but with the help of technology, it is getting safer every day.
Hard hats and heavy boots are the quintessential symbols of a construction worker. These safety measures might not be enough, however. 25% of accidents are from workplace foot injuries, and that’s with all the advanced features construction footwear now provides.
It seems as if better construction gear is in order. Enter the exoskeleton. One of the leaders in exoskeleton technology is Ekso Bionics, a company that has been developing exoskeletons for healthcare and construction work for the past ten years. Their construction exoskeletons include an upper body exoskeleton to support the spinal cord and an arm that can reduce repetitive stress injuries from heavy-duty construction tools.
Another construction exoskeleton is suitX from US Bionics. Their exoskeleton is modular and workers can choose to add on pieces as they feel necessary. The modules include suits for the back, legs, and shoulders. This exoskeleton is designed to reduce stress on joints and muscles while remaining unobtrusive so workers can still carry their tools. Each module can be worn separately or together.
Protective construction gear has long been one of the most relied-upon safety measures. In the modern age, protective clothing is getting smart. Wearable tech can monitor workers’ biometric data including heart rate, skin temperature, and respiration rate. This data can be used to monitor stress and fatigue, alerting safety managers if a worker becomes overheated or exhausted.
Some wearables can also sense changes in the environment and position, a function that would be extremely useful should a worker get buried under rubble in an emergency. One wearable incorporating location services is a smart vest. It connects to a real-time locating services platform that can allow actuators to slow or deactivate machinery when a vest is detected nearby.
Hard hats and helmets are a popular target for wearable companies. Some of the features included in this technology are fall impact detection, emergency alerts, and sensors.
A smart helmet can incorporate augmented reality technology to allow workers to see plans projected onto the site. This reduces the need to carry cumbersome books, sheets, and laptops on the site, freeing up workers’ hands to focus on safety. The helmet also has a rear camera to give workers eyes in the back of their heads, enabling them to see danger behind them.
Many construction safety measures focus on the actions of the workers. Some technologies, however, target the job site itself. Monitoring the environmental quality for red flags such as air pollutants can alert managers to potential hazards as soon as possible. There are several technological monitoring strategies being applied to construction sites, including sensors and drones.
Sensors for construction sites can detect temperature, pressure, humidity, vibration, dust particulate, and volatile organic compounds. The data can then be used to analyze the environment over time, and to keep the job site safer by detecting hazards right away.
Drones are another major tool for monitoring construction safety and the progress of a project. An aerial view of the job site can reveal faults or hazards on the site that are not obvious from the workers’ perspective. Additionally, these unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to monitor workers to make sure their safety is always protected on site.
Robotics and Self-Driving Vehicles
Perhaps the most blatant sci-fi motif, robots are coming to the construction site, along with their cousin, the self-driving vehicle. These tools can reduce the need for humans to complete certain backbreaking tasks. Vehicular accidents are also a major cause of injury and death in the industry, and automating them will drastically reduce accidents.
The past year saw major advances in the area of construction robotics. Construction juggernaut Caterpillar has decided to back tech company Fastbrick Robotics, developing a robotic bricklayer.
2017 was also the public debut of the first self-driving construction vehicle, the Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle (AIPV) by Royal Truck and Equipment, designed to protect vehicles behind it from rear collisions. Later in the year Built Robotics debuted its Autonomous Track Loader, a self-driving track loader.
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Both new startups and established construction brands have been innovating nonstop, and the results are exciting. Companies are learning to protect their workers by leaning into the massive leaps in technology.
Soon, it might be the norm for a job site to be monitored by a drone and a sensor, while workers in exoskeletons work alongside robots. This trend can improve workplace safety forever.
Author: Vincent West
With an educational background in Engineering Design and a personal interest in all things construction and workforce related, Vince is behind WorkBootCritic.com. He’s a news geek, especially when it comes to keeping up to date with the industry’s biggest developments.