Traditional blueprints and on-site communications gear could soon be set to go the way of the dinosaur. Voice-activated hardhats are on the way, and they make hardcopies and walkie-talkies look like cave drawings and cans connected by strings.

Who is making the voice activated hard hats?

The new equipment is being worked on at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), incorporating cutting-edge and emerging technologies from Augmented Reality (AR) to Artificial Intelligence (AI). A lot of us are already starting to get used to the idea of having conversations with our personal tech. Phones, tablets and desktop computers are increasingly coming equipped with voice-activated “assistants”, from Cortana to Alexa. For most people, they’re an everyday convenience (and occasional annoyance). For workers in high-risk jobs requiring full concentration and the use of both hands, they could be a literal life-saver.

How do they work?

Here’s how the technologies work in practice. Workers wearing “smart hats” would be able to call up blueprints instantly, receiving graphical information directly on their headgear’s visors. Built-in microphones and earpieces allow them to talk directly to their hardhats’ computers, giving and receiving instructions whenever and wherever needed.

The AI required for all this is pretty advanced, but also specialised. That’s why some of the best minds in the construction business are being brought onboard. Costain, Winvic, TerOpta, Enable My Team and Geo Green Power are all involved in developing the “conversational” technology, to make sure it keeps pace with the demands of a high-pressure, fast-moving industry.

Computers that talk back, while a basic feature of sci-fi for decades, have only really found limited use in the real world. Getting them working reliably outside of the labs is no small challenge – particularly given the needs of a modern construction site. For example, the experts at UWE Bristol are paying particular attention to overcoming the sound levels the gear’s likely to be up against. Noise cancelling tech is being explored to handle this.

As well as providing instant, hands-free support and information to workers, the new hardhats will also relay important details to managers. At any point, the tech will be able to track where workers are and how the overall project is going. It’s all about boosting what people can do on-site, making every stage of a construction job faster, more efficient and safer. Problems can be picked up more quickly, and fixes made more effectively. As Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Digital Innovation and Enterprise at UWE Bristol Professor Lukumon Oyedele puts it:

“We hope that this technology will augment workers’ capabilities, to make construction more efficient. It is about improving worker’s productivity, ensuring a faster delivery process and getting it right the first time by avoiding defects.”

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