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Reducing Roadside Construction Accidents

Volvo CE and the Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon collaborated to develop a system that uses RFID to save workers' lives.
By Mark Roberti

The students looked at a broad range of technology and considered how best to solve the problem of providing visibility to machine operators. "They were concerned with how you identify when people are in a place of danger and alert the operator," says Jonathan Cagan, Carnegie Mellon's Ladd Professor in Engineering and co-director of the Integrated Innovation Institute. "LIDAR and RFID rose to the top as ways to solve this problem that were meaningful and implementable."

To make the system easy to use, the students designed an interface for the operator that integrates the different technologies, rather than providing multiple data sources. The students also researched cognitive and psychological aspects of the problem and identified tuning out conventional alarms in a noisy environment as a potential problem. A worker might not hear an alert or a driver might not pay attention to a warning, given the distractions of an active construction site.

"The students researched something called the cocktail party effect," Cagan says. "At a cocktail party, there are many conversations going on at once, and you often can't hear anything. But when someone says your name, you hear it. That's where RFID comes in. We can identify someone working near equipment through his or her RFID transponder, and a speaker inside the cabin can warn the machine operator who specifically is in danger and, based on its volume, how close she or he is."

As the sponsor of the program, Volvo CE has the right to develop the system and commercialize it. "The next step for us is to explore the components that are required to make the system work, and strive to minimize false alarms," says Volvo CE's Beainy. "Off-the-shelf sensors were not designed for a construction environment. So we'll look at what's needed and do some modifications and testing. Some of the technology might be incorporated into our machines."

Photos: Integrated Innovation Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

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