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Not everyone pulls a nine-to-fiver within the confines of an office cubicle. “Roughnecks,” for instance, regularly brave below-freezing temperatures in the Arctic in pursuit of oil and natural gas. To help these workers cope with their hostile environment, Norwegian scientists are developing a line of “smart” clothing that can help supervisors determine when their charges should stop working and head back inside. Instead of relying on temperature and wind measurements to gauge safety conditions, the “ColdWear” jacket features built-in sensors that monitor the physiological health of its wearer in real time.
SINTEF’s prototype comprises temperature and humidity sensors, an activity sensor, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and a digital compass. “This enables us to monitor a worker’s body position and movement in great detail and we can easily see whether the person is stationary or active, as well as measuring temperature, humidity, and perspiration,” says Tine M. Seeberg, a senior research scientist.
The jacket can also gauge the strain experienced by workers using large drills and other machinery.
The jacket can also measure phenomena such as vibrations, which could be valuable for gauging the strain experienced by workers using large drills and other machinery. Because the garment communicates with its surroundings via Bluetooth, it requires very little energy. Another advantage? “The data can, for example, be sent to a smartphone or PC, and thence through a mobile network to a control room,” Seeberg adds.
Such measurements provide objective benchmarks for workers who may be willing to sacrifice comfort and safety to get a job done. In subzero conditions, fingers that become cold can lose their dexterity and result in incorrectly fitted screws and other potentially dangerous scenarios.
“In my experience, many workers push themselves beyond stipulated limits without feeling discomfort,” says Øystein Wiggen, a physiologist and research scientist at SINTEF Health Research. “We may well have to use a sort of traffic-light system in such situations, in which green means ‘OK,’ yellow means ‘take care,’ and red indicates that there is danger afoot.”
SINTEF has plans to give its research other applications, such as specialty gear for athletes or outerwear for personnel in extreme environments.