We live in an increasingly connected world where real-time communication is considered essential for ensuring accuracy, efficiency, and safety in a growing number of applications and jobs.
And yet construction workers still yell, shout, and whistle garbled commands and information over the roar of equipment, trucks, and other high-decibel tools such as hammers, breakers, and drills—to name but a few.
Now, however, Caterpillar is seeking to change all that. Its new Connected Worker communication system, unveiled at MineExpo 2021 in September, is a giant step forward in wearable technology designed to make construction workers’ jobs safer and allowing them to communicate more effectively on a jobsite.
Developed by a tech company called GuardHat, Connected Worker is comprised of three core systems, all of which work together to protect workers while making them more productive: wearable PPE that is equipped with software that captures and transmits data, with a Internet of Things (IOT) platform that receives reports from an array of on-site sensors and alerts workers when a dangerous situation develops. Alerts can range from fall detections, SOS signals from other workers, geofence violations, and even evacuation orders.
The system is housed in an ordinary-looking hard hat, which has an embedded GNSS chip inside it. This chip tracks the location of each Cat Connected Worker on a jobsite. An optional ultra-wideband system can also track similarly equipped workers indoors and even relay 3-D tracking—including longitude, latitude, and elevation—to help rescuers quickly find workers in an emergency. And just like high-tech military helmets, the hard hats feature real-time video and audio capabilities—including push-to-talk, off-line geofence, and recording capabilities.
Another wearable feature is the system’s TA1 tag, which offers GNSS and Bluetooth tracking outdoors. The tag also provides SOS and evacuation notices as well as geofence violations—and, in a sign of the times, can even be provide social distancing violation alerts. The tag also captures video and photographs to report hazards, which are then automatically shared with the system’s safety control center (SCS) to allow fast-response geofencing of dangerous areas.
Another cutting-edge feature, part of Cat’s MineStar Detect System, is an Android smartphone app which monitors workers outside and allows site managers to communicate with them, issue SOSO alerts, and capture video or pictures.
At the moment, Cat has focused the Connected Worker system on the mining industry—hence its debut at MineExpo 2021. Its intention, according to the company, is to create a safety ecosystem at mine sites, in addition to capturing and storing data for future analysis. Additionally, Cat says, construction managers can view worker location and data in near real-time to communicate unsafe situations to those in the field and generate a wide range of reports—including violations and emergency evacuations; location reports with heat signatures that designate highly traveled areas; sensor readings that include temperature, noise, humidity, and pressure—all capabilities that offer obvious advantages for a wide range of construction applications outside of mining. At the moment, Cat is mum on any future expansion of its new Connected Worker system. But given the trends in technology today, it seems like it will only be a matter of time before this new technology trickles down to a jobsite near you.