Below the Neck: Examples of Body-Worn Wearables in Enterprise

Written BY

Emily Friedman

April 27, 2017

It seems that recently a group of major enterprises, specifically Boeing, UPS, General Electric, ThyssenKrupp Elevator and Lockheed Martin, have been receiving a surge of coverage in articles on the topic of wearables in enterprise. The innovators behind the use of wearables at each of these companies will, of course, be speaking at EWTS 2017, sharing their experiences and best-practice user advice. But those companies are garnering attention primarily for their use of Augmented Reality smart glasses and other heads-up displays. The following are four examples of workers wearing technology below the neck, on the job:

San Diego International Airport

The San Diego International Airport (SAN) partnered with Samsung SDS America and Total Communicator Solutions to make its airport IT operations more responsive. SAN is the first international airport to use Samsung smartwatches, specifically the Samsung Gear S3 and S2 watches. TCS provided the software part of the solution—its Spark Compass intelligent communications platform – integrated with SAN’s “existing operational infrastructure and data solutions” – uses beacon technology to provide location tracking and facilitate communication between smartwatch-wearing airport staff members.

So, when an IT issue is reported, the solution alerts the nearest IT staff person via his or her smartwatch. Once the task is complete, the worker can report the status to a central database using voice commands or text input on his watch. In this way, incident reports and records are automatically fed into the airport’s existing workflow tracking system.

In this case, Samsung smartwatches serve as a user-friendly tool for communication, enabling quick delivery of and responsiveness to IT issues that might cause flight delays. And smartwatches could prove useful in other areas of the airport, for flight attendants, ground crew and passengers alike.

In enterprises that depend in large part upon the consumer-facing aspects of their business, where it’s not a simple matter of making a pair of safety glasses “smart” (think travel, hospitality and retail,) discreet body-worn wearables can be used to achieve hands-free communication and documentation benefits similar to those offered by smart eyewear, in addition to health and safety benefits.

*Learn more about the innovative use of wearable technologies at San Diego International Airport at EWTS 2017, where SAN’s Rick Belliotti will be presenting an exclusive case study.

Reinventing the Safety Vest

Many useful metrics – heart rate, body temperature, perspiration level, along with location and movement – can be tracked by advanced sensor-equipped wearable devices to boost productivity and comfort, improve worker safety, and generate data for optimizing the workplace.

For instance, a smart safety vest that can tell when a worker is in proximity to a danger zone on a construction job site; or a vest that tracks exposure to environmental and other hazards, and can send an alert when critical levels are reached. Companies are indeed working on these kinds of smart, connected vests.

Bosch and Electric Fan Engineering have designed a vest geared towards workers in extreme thermal environments. The vest features three warming levels for workers subject to cold work environments. They’ve also developed a lightweight body cooling system for workers operating under hotter conditions.

From vests to hats: Australian-based SmartCap has developed just that—a smart cap; or rather a headband designed to fit under a worker’s standard headwear, whether a hardhat or regular baseball cap. The SmartCap detects fatigue by reading the wearer’s EEG brainwaves, identifying when he or she might fall asleep and warning the user via voice and vibrations to prevent an incident.

Beyond vests and hats, there are personal voltage detectors, once bulky but now becoming smaller and more lightweight due to advances in wearable technologies; as well as various wearable patches that can detect environmental hazards like UV radiation and toxic gases.


Exoskeletons are sort of extreme body-worn wearables that partially or nearly totally cover the body, and they’re becoming more and more lightweight and practical for working environments. This technology was originally developed to help military personnel to manage heavy loads in the field and to assist the physically disabled.

Several companies are working on developing partial- (or modular-) and full-body exoskeletons for hazardous and physically demanding industrial work environments. These suits aren’t necessarily “smart” but it is technology worn on the body that empowers workers by augmenting or supplementing their strength and physical abilities to carry out tasks.

We’re still mostly in the prototype stage when it comes to the category of wearable robotics but the goal is to enable human workers to carry heavy loads with less risk of injury or even perform tasks they would not normally be able to take on. These devices might also minimize fatigue and the physical stress and injuries associated with repetitive tasks or long periods standing on one’s feet in the workplace.

As with smartwatches, exoskeletons are seeing more traction in healthcare (patient care and rehabilitation,) which might have to do with the high price point and that the technology was first imagined for military and medical use. Only time will tell if exoskeletons become common on industrial jobsites, helping workers to lift, carry, push, perform repetitive manual tasks, even stand for long periods of time.

Amey (Midlands, UK)

This company is actually using two kinds of body-worn wearable tech to protect workers: A body camera and a smart t-shirt.

In two pilot schemes, Amey is supplying wearables to its waste collection and household recycling facility teams to address problems of fatigue, stress, and abuse from customers. 28 volunteers are trying out body cameras in response to an increase of instances of verbal abuse and threats of violence towards Amey recycling employees by members of the public they serve. The cameras are attached to workers’ personal protective equipment, providing video footage and audio recordings. When activated by the wearer, the system is triggered to store the previous 30 seconds so that the incident is fully captured.

In the second pilot, specially designed t-shirts capture workers’ physiological data for several days. Using the collected data – heart rate, respiration, pace, posture and level of stress – a detailed picture can be formed of each employee’s health, as well as their level of physical activity each day; and sources of stress can be identified and diminished. For instance, the pilot has so far revealed that reversing a vehicle, working on uneven ground, and working in fast-moving traffic are all causes of distress. Amey followed up by adding cameras and on-board systems to its waste collection vehicles, and is encouraging crews to report areas of uneven ground to the city council.

Make sure to attend EWTS 2017, where an entire panel discussion will be devoted to the use cases and applications of wrist- and body-worn wearables in the enterprise.

photo credit: Martin uit Utrecht <a href="">Samsung Galaxy Watch Phone concept</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

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