| Written by Mark Buzinkay
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Wearable technology is generally any electronic device worn on the user's body. Such devices can take many forms, including jewellery, accessories, medical devices, and clothing or clothing elements. Wearable devices can be categorised based on their function, appearance, and proximity to the human body. A short list of popular wearables includes smartwatches, smart glasses, fitness trackers, smart clothing, wearable cameras and medical devices.
Smartwatches are computerised gadgets worn on the wrist and include improved communication, notifications and alarms; Health tracking, GPS and navigation are other popular features.
Smart glasses come in various flavours, such as optical head-mounted displays (OHMDs), heads-up displays (HUDs), Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and smart contact lenses. All smart glasses can be split into two groups: those paired with a smartphone, which requires seeing images on the smartphone screen, or separate ones, which need a wired connection with a source device.
Fitness trackers are developed to monitor and track outdoor sports activities and measure fitness-related metrics, such as the speed and distance of running, exhalation, pulse rate, and sleeping habits.
Smart clothing surveys the wearer's physical condition and is used in sportswear, medical apparel, workwear and military apparel. Wearable smart biometric devices have drawn the attention of professional sports leaders, and athletes are already profiting from the application of wearables to monitor players' physical condition while training.
Wearable cameras are well-suited for producing first-person videos and photos in real-time. Two major kinds of wearable cameras exist: Small cameras that can be attached to either the body or clothes or even be worn in the ear, and larger cameras to attach to caps or helmets.
A wearable medical device typically consists of one or more biosensors used to observe a variety of physiological data to avert disease, provide early diagnoses, and streamline treatment and home rehabilitation. Digital healthcare wearable devices are often grouped with other wearables to help gather important data concerning the health of the patient using non-invasive sensors.
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Various types of sensors are used in wearable devices depending on the intended application: environmental sensors, biosensors, location tracking sensors, and other sensors:
Environmental sensors are used for measuring, monitoring, and recording environmental conditions or parameters, such as barometric pressure, humidity, luminosity, temperature, dust, and water level. Light sensors are used to detect light, and sound sensors or microphones are utilised to determine the noise level of an environment. A humidity sensor measures the relative humidity in the air, and flame sensors detect open flames or fire. Fume sensors perform a similar function in detecting smoke, alcohol, and other harmful gases.
Biosensors allow people to be mindful of their health status at all times and assist healthcare professionals in the early diagnosis and prevention of illness. Examples include body temperature sensors, heart-rate monitoring sensors, electrocardiogram (ECG), electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG) sensors, blood pressure sensors, and glucose level sensors. In addition, biosensors are common in medical electronics intended for indoor use to monitor the patient's health.
Location- and position-tracking sensors like GPS, altimeter, magnetometer, compasses, and accelerometers are the most common type of sensors on wearable devices. They are used in activity trackers, smartwatches, and medical wearables. For example, a GPS module enables spatial navigation (location, altitude, and speed) but requires a connection to the sky. A compass is a simple magnetometer that determines the direction of the climatic magnetic field. Another common type of inertial sensor is an accelerometer with a high capability in fall detection and safety management applications.
Furthermore, other sensors include camera sensors, communication sensor modules (for instance, Bluetooth, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), Wi-Fi, etc.), motion sensors, speed sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and infrared receiver (IR) sensors.
Further reading: Safety framework in mining - How to integrate transponders?
1) Real-time monitoring and inspection
A significant aspect of wearable technology is maintaining and inspecting equipment to reduce downtime. The failure of major machinery may cost millions to a company. In case of critical issues, technicians require an expert to assist them. However, bringing experts from onshore offices to offshore mines increases the overall expenses and time for inspecting and repairing equipment.
Examples of the applications supported by smart eyewear include time management for controlling mining equipment, free access to the most commonly accessed information, and production process control, such as conveyor belt loading supervision.
Smart glasses or smart helmets could help reduce the time and cost of inspection and repair. They can supply relevant data, schematics, maps, charts and other related information. Wireless connectivity can also assist a field engineer in receiving expert guidance in real-time. This could ultimately reduce the maintenance cost while increasing the productivity and uptime of the equipment. Paired with a camera, the device can take images or videos and send them to administration staff for supervision or advice.
Taking the idea even further, a smart display allows a user to interact with the environment hands-free and notify about the mining operation most needed. Moreover, it can detect hand commands and interpret them accordingly.
2) Resource tracking
Wearable technology can efficiently track the workforce during mine operations. Using location-based technologies and wireless connectivity, the device can feed a worker's real-time location to the monitoring centre. In the case of emergencies, it helps to remove workers from hazardous events quickly (read more: miner tracking).
3) Mine Safety
Minimising workplace injuries is one of the most important aspects of wearable tech. For example, in mines, a worker can be exposed to risks of injury due to hazardous terrain or working around heavy machinery. Wearable technologies such as smart helmets can assess the health and wellbeing of workers. They can also provide essential support and assistance.
Using wearables alone or together during mining operations is intended to improve safety, provide hands-free operation, and help monitor occupational health. Such equipment could include a sensor-equipped safety vest, smart eyewear, a smart helmet, and an integrated position transponder. Additional sensors could expand such a system according to the specific needs of the miner.
Wearable technology can efficiently track the workforce during mine operations. Using location-based technologies and wireless connectivity (such as RFID), the device can feed a worker's real-time location to the monitoring centre. However, because signals needed for GPS modules are not available indoors, they are considered unsuitable for underground tracking systems.
Further reading: Mining safety use cases for technologies
A smart vest could be equipped with different sensors to detect levels of dangerous gases in the air, a radiation sensor, a temperature and humidity sensor, and other sensors depending on the type of mine. In addition to supplying an alert system with yellow to red lights for emergencies, the helmet facilitates communication between managers and miners. A location transponder feeds a tracking system to track the device and monitor the actions of workers.
Similarly, a safety helmet could contain sensors to receive the brain activities of equipment drivers (haul trucks, excavators, dozers, graders, and water trucks) and monitor fatigue at coal mines. Such a smart vest targets potential threats in the mining environment as it detects the lack of signals in the brain indicating sleepiness, diet, or medical conditions that may cause fatigue in workers. As a result, it is expected that drivers can avoid accidents, and awareness will increase.
Additionally, wearable cameras could notice respirable silica dust, a major harmful contaminant for miners. This fine dust causes lung-related chronic diseases. When the captured video and dust data are uploaded to the software, it automatically analyses the concentration of respirable silica dust in the air.
Wearable technology has the potential to decrease significantly risk to miners and increase productivity through a variety of different methods. For example, miners are prone to health issues and accidents while working in industrial settings involving remote locations, deep mines, extreme temperatures and pressure variations, as well as the presence of heavy equipment in these surroundings. In such conditions, wearable devices can capture vital statistics of the field workforce, monitor health conditions and location of all miners, and transmit these to command centres in real-time.
Many of these technologies have been tried and refined for underground application. The connected mine of the near future will use wearables and equipment-based sensor technologies (IoT) on common digital platforms to improve human safety and performance and optimise how humans and machines work together to enhance underground mining operations' overall safety and efficiency.