“Wearable” network devices are set to take the building sector by storm, providing dramatic improvements to design and construction processes as well as helping to ensure the safety of on-site workers.
The rapid evolution of mobile apps and portable network devices is on the verge of prompting a profound transformation in the area of construction site equipment.
While building companies already make widespread use of smartphones, tablet computers and mobile apps to expedite the sharing and dissemination of project data, researchers now believe that the next stage in the use of network technologies by the construction sector will be the adoption "wearables."
Cambridge-based market consultancy Forrester Research predict a swift uptake in wearable network devices throughout the remainder of the decade, despite the technology still being in an incipient phase of development.
Forrester predicts that by 2020, businesses will make an emphatic shift towards the adoption of wearables, with use of the devices for business purposes surpassing the consumer market.
According to J.P. Gownder, principal analyst with Forrester Researcher, the use of wearables promises to dramatically raise the productivity and capabilities of employees, business owners and clients by granting them instantaneous access to a broad swathe of data in a full range of formats, irrespective of location.
The one wearable device which has generated the biggest volume of buzz in the building sector has been smart glasses, which enable wearers to continually access visual data while negotiating their way through a real life construction site.
New software solutions, such as the MaaS360 program, developed by IBM subsidiary Fiberlink for the Google Glass, permit users to survey and interact with a mobile IT environment via use of their smart glasses through methods as natural and intuitive as hand gestures and voice commands.
In addition to facilitating data access for design and construction purposes, wearables also promise to benefit members of the construction sector by radically improving safety.
Smart safety garments for construction professionals are already available on the market, helping to deal with the intrinsically hazardous nature of working life on building sites.
New York's Human Condition has designed safety vests and hard hats incorporating low-cost wearable computers, which derive their power from the movements made by workers without impede their range of motion.
The company's enhanced reflector vest is equipped with GPS and RTLS location capabilities, a vital stats monitor and, most remarkable of all, an airbag protection system building into the collar to protect the necks of workers in the case of unexpected tumbles or falls.
A hard hat developed by the company features a similar range of sophisticated features, including sensors which detect biometric signals, and force detectors capable of registering impacts or falls. LED work lights and safety beacons enable the hats to provide visual alerts in the case of hazardous incidents, as well as identification of workers, and can be solar charge via photovoltaic panels on the visor.
To top it all off, the hard hats are also capable of informing managers when they have not been donned by workers who are situated in particularly hazardous parts of construction sites.