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SmartHat Developers Hope to Make Construction Sites Safer

Researchers at Georgia Tech and Duke University have developed and tested an energy-harvesting EPC Gen 2 RFID tag and reader designed to alert workers and equipment operators in the event of an imminent collision.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 31, 2011A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Real-time Automated Project Information and Decision Systems (RAPIDS) laboratory and Duke University have completed testing of an energy-harvesting radio frequency identification system that, when tags are attached to hard hats, can issue an alert in the event that heavy equipment is moving too close to a worker on a construction site. The solution is unique, in that the tag can operate from power stored on a built-in capacitor, enabling the tag to be smaller than it would have been if it had a battery, while also ensuring that the system does not fail due to batteries requiring replacement.

The technology was developed through funding from the National Science Foundation and the Construction Industry Institute, and was then tested multiple times over the past three years, at several large industrial construction sites throughout the Southeast. Approximately two weeks ago, the most recent test was completed by the Georgia Department of Transportation, regarding road-construction equipment.

A prototype SmartHat tag attached to a hard hat

The system, known as Self-Monitoring Alert and Reporting Technology for Hazard Avoidance and Training (SmartHat), was developed under the leadership of Jochen Teizer, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, as well as Matt Reynolds, a Nortel Networks assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University. In recent weeks, the team finished testing the system with tags on static equipment, as well as with actual workers wearing hard hats, in the presence of RFID readers attached to heavy equipment.

The ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) reader, designed with off-the-shelf components, is placed within a vehicle and wired to an antenna on top of an equipment cabin, or at the rear of the vehicle.

Improving safety on construction or manufacturing sites has been the project's focus, Teizer says, noting that the group hoped to develop a non-active tag that would eliminate the need for batteries. However, he adds, the researchers did test a battery-assisted passive (BAP) UHF transponder, which provided a longer read range than the capacitor-assisted passive SmartHat tag. According to Teizer, active tags not only are vulnerable to inoperability if batteries die, but can also be expensive—as much as $500 apiece.

The capacitor-assisted passive tag solution can achieve a read range of up to 16 meters (52 feet), Teizer says, while BAP tags can work reliably at a distance of 18 meters (59 feet) or more, with typical operating ranges of 35 meters (115 feet). The group's prototype capacitor-assisted passive tag measures about 5 centimeters (2 inches) square.

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