Wearable Sensors Make Workplaces Safer

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

close up of hands setting smart watch

Millions of people world-wide wear devices to track their activity, heart rate and sleep. The number of wearable sensors is expected to reach three billion by 2025. Employers are looking at how the devices can improve workplace safety, especially in dangerous or remote environments.

A hospital in Turin, Italy, experimented with a variety of wearable sensors as well as sensors incorporated into the environment—the Internet of Things, says Guido Boella, professor of computer science at the University of Turin, who was one of the researchers of the study, called Sensing Safety at Work. A dashboard showed  not only information from the sensors, but also a map of the hospital to pinpoint workers in distress.

Sensors on wristbands were given to employees in a laboratory where toxic substances were handled. “If they got sick or fell down, it set off an alarm and showed them on the map,” he says.

Another aspect of the study used sensors on bands on the wrist or body, or on necklaces, designed to avoid being invasive while employees worked, but which could signal problems by setting off an alarm via vibration, light or sound. A third experiment combined information about the dispersion of toxic substances in the air with the physiology of individuals.

Female scientist working in lab 7“We combined data from people with wearables with data from Internet of Things sensors”  detecting substances in the air, Dr. Boella says. “For many substances, the problem isn’t just a threshold level present, but how much of it is absorbed. That depends on a person’s activity, how long they are exposed, how high their heart rate is. The values from the body were combined with values from the Internet of Things sensors in the room to provide personalized alarms.”

Both the cost and size of sensors have diminished greatly in the past few years, but battery life is still limited, requiring either better batteries or more efficient hardware, says Saul Delabrida, assistant professor at the Federal University of Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Connections also are an issue. “The current state-of-the-art of the technology allows creating wearable devices with enough power-computing capabilities to process the data collected from the sensors without a Wi-Fi connection,” he says. “The sensors need to be connected to the module [that’s] able to execute an algorithm that provides information to the user in this strategy.”

Sensors can monitor workers for fatigue, overheating and cold, as well as location—to find a forestry worker alone in a remote place, for example. Already the mining industry uses sensors for detecting dangerous levels of dust and gases, and proximity sensors on both trucks and miners to reduce accidents. “When he raises a bucket of rocks, the driver doesn’t have a good view,” says Martin Lavallière, professor of health and kinesiology at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, Canada. An alarm in the truck warns the driver that a miner is nearby, while a wearable on the miner alerts him that he’s too near the truck.

Employers also can promote health and wellness through the activity trackers that many employees already wear, in a trend that reflects the BYOD—Bring Your Own Device—model for smart phones at work, Dr. Lavallière says, or they can choose one brand and provide it to all employees. Either way, the goal is to give incentives to employees, to make sure they get enough activity and maintain good health behaviors.

“If employees maintain their health they will be able to be more productive and more efficient, with fewer absences for sick leave, less ‘presenteeism’—when they show up for work sick and are not as productive,” he says.

Woman carpenter using circular saw.Employers could use the data on an individual level to encourage wellness, or could aggregate the information to gain insights into how employees react to situations at work. For example, “they could see that every time employees go to this workstation, their heart rate goes up,” Dr. Lavallière says. “Is that because the work is physically demanding, or because someone nearby is creating a stressful environment through their behavior, like yelling at people? When you look at the data from all the employees, you can say, ‘This job seems more stressful. How can we make it better? Should we separate the task in two?’”

Another question will be how employers deal with worker privacy and control.

The factory of the future could use these devices not to track whether someone is not feeling well, but whether they are making the right movements with their hands,” Dr. Boella says.

A wearable sensor could detect whether a worker is assembling an appliance in the authorized way. On the one hand, such monitoring could reduce repetitive-motion injuries. On the other, “there may be no more freedom to do things in a different way,” he says. “Not even controlling our bodies and movements.”

Tracking how many steps an employee takes or how long they sleep “could be seen as Big Brother at work,” Dr. Lavallière says.

In introducing wearable sensors in the workplace, employers need to explain the nature of the data collected and use incentives rather than punishment, he says, adding, “There will always be a conflict between the employee and employer. What’s important is that everyone draws benefits from the technology.”

 

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

The Future of Cash

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

Businessman touching the screen about currency icons

Digital payments are growing, with new methods and technologies proliferating and the number of transactions skyrocketing.

Non-cash transactions grew 8.9% to 373.3 billion in 2014, according to the World Payments Report 2016 published by Capgemini and BNP Paribas. Use of checks is down, but use of cards—especially debit cards—continues to grow, up nearly 12% in 2014.

“It isn’t just the card: everybody is convinced they have invented the payment mode of the future,” says Christophe Vergne, leader of the global cards and payments center of excellence at Capgemini. “Regulators are fostering that to create competition, innovation and boost the market.”

Indeed, many governments would love to reduce the use of cash, in order to crack down on criminal activity. France recently lowered the limit for cash transactions to €1,000 from €3,000. Other European Union countries also have limits.

“For the last three decades I have investigated the large-scale use of cash, which is the preferred medium of exchange for illegal transactions ranging from the production and distribution of illegal goods and services (drugs, prostitution, etc.) to tax evasion, and how large-denomination bills are primarily used in these activities,” says Edgar L. Feige, professor of economics emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Many CurrencyHowever, bank notes and coins are necessary “for the safety of the entire financial system,” he says, noting that a digital system is vulnerable to hacking. “That’s why it’s even more important to have a physical means of payment, as a safety backup system.”

The security of digital payments has greatly improved, thanks to tokenization, which swaps the real card or account number for a stand-in, explains Mike Cowen, U.K. and Ireland head of digital payment products for Mastercard. A thief who gets hold of the fake number at the point of sale can’t do anything with it.

The current global chip and PIN technology, called EMV, “did a fantastic job for us of massively reducing fraud at the point of sale,” he says. “Tokenization takes that same EMV technology and enables it to be used for online payments as well. It means that online payments can be as secure as those at the point of sale.”

The most important aspect is that tokenization technology is scalable. E-wallet providers don’t have to approach each bank to enable the technology; they just have to connect to the payment networks, such as MasterCard.

“Now that we have tokenization in place, it’s actually designed so [that] smaller, niche players can build digital services that require digital payments to enable consumers to buy things within their digital channels,” Mr. Cowen says.

Another huge trend, he notes, is contactless payments, which allow for payments using mobile phones as well as cards.

By 2020, every point of sale in Europe will be contactless-enabled,” Mr. Cowen says.

The Internet of Things will expand the possibilities. “Fitness bands are a sensible thing to build payments into. They have a means of monitoring your life signs, which is one way to authenticate,” Mr. Cowen says. “We believe there will be a huge wave of innovation on the back of this.”

The Internet of Things “will be a revolution,” combining such things as smart meters with digital payments, Capgemini’s Mr. Vergne says. “Tomorrow you will be able to pay as you use. Imagine you don’t pay electricity every month, but every time you reach three kilowatt-hours. Systems could cope with that.”

Man paying with NFC technology on mobile phone, in restaurantThe overall trend is toward smaller digital payments. “The marginal cost of transactions is decreasing to such small amounts that it economically makes sense to pay €1 digitally,” he says. “The more the volume grows, the more the marginal cost decreases and can compete with coins.”

The transaction cost of cards is 0.20% to 0.30% interchange plus merchant service fee, plus an annual fee for the card holder, Mr. Vergne says. The cost of cash, by contrast, is higher: between 0.5% and 1%, because of the burden of counting , storing  and transporting it, plus the risk of theft. Individuals don’t pay that cost directly. “Society is paying for all this infrastructure of maintaining cash,” he says. However, he notes, despite the costs and the explosion of digital payments, the volume of cash in circulation continues to grow.

“As for the notion of the advent of a cashless society coming about,” Dr. Feige says, “the truth of the matter is [that] cash holding and cash use have increased, despite digital payments. I would predict confidently that cash will survive as a medium of exchange for many years to come.”

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Sensors in the Age of Industrial IoT

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

The use of sensors, especially in the Internet of Things, is creating a mountain of big data. This infographic illustrates how to manage the data generated from sensors, including best practices for identifying which data streams are useful as the volume of data continues to explode.

Click here to see a larger view

dassault_infographic_preview-full-sensors_190816
 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.



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