Better Living Through Big Data

Avoid back injury at work with a smart belt and Intel Edison


Intel Edison is an extraordinarily flexible piece of technology — “one tiny module, endless possibility.” We’ve already seen how it can be used to make music or how it might drive the future of fashion. Its dual-core computing power is already helping to battle diabetes and power new 3D printers.

It might also help to significantly reduce back injuries in the workplace.

Edison is at the core of a belt-mounted technology designed by KINETIC, an industrial IoT analytics and wearables startup based in New York. Sensors in the company’s clip-on device work together with sophisticated algorithms to track and analyse whether the wearer is lifting a heavy object correctly. A connected wristband (optional) vibrates if there’s a danger of injury.

“Lifting injuries account for the majority of worker compensation claims, ” says Haytham Elhawary, cofounder and CEO of KINETIC, “and most of these injuries are preventable. In 2013 these injuries cost companies more than $60bn (USD), and, second only to the flu, back pain was the main cause of worker absenteeism.”

KINETIC belt sensor with Intel Edison
The KINETIC device is thin enough to wear comfortably on a belt.

In the UK too, workplace injury is an ongoing problem that affects employees and employers. According to the latest government statistics, an estimated 4.1 million working days were lost due in 2014/2015 to workplace injuries. That’s 6.7 days per injury on average.

Elhawary’s idea was inspired by his mother, who repeatedly suffered back injuries lifting patients while working as a nurse. The KINETIC CEO saw an opportunity to “take technology that’s been available to consumers for a long time and bring it to the workplace where it can be used to reduce work-related injuries.”

With a built-in accelerometer that measures the wearer’s speed, body angles and orientation, KINETIC uses Intel Edison to collect the sensor data (storing it in the module’s onboard flash memory) and upload it to the cloud (via Edison’s built-in Wi-Fi).

KINETIC data on a leader board
KINETIC can keep track of the lifts workers perform, compare them and even rank workers against each other in a safety league table.

“The belt-mounted device can look at how your back is moving and if you’re bending,” explains Elhawary. “We can do a lot of things with just a belt-mounted unit. [But] if you want to get a more sophisticated, and know how far a box is from your lower back, or if you’ve lifted above shoulder height, which is considered high risk, then you need the wrist unit.”

Of course, the movement data gathered by KINETIC’s belt and wrist units is only one part of the system. Amazon Elastic MapReduce (EMR) analytics then crunch the numbers in real-time, while KINETIC’s dashboards pull the information from this Amazon database to output meaningful metrics for workforce managers. These insights can be used to help train workers and even redesign the workplace to make it safer — Ergonomics 2.0.

As Elhawary points out: “Traditionally, an ergonomist would come along and stop a worker in the middle of performing a task and literally start measuring how much their back was bending. How the knees bent. How far a box was from the lower back…

“For the first time, we can automate these things and if the risk is too high, provide real-time feedback.” By thinking of warehouse workers as “industrial athletes,” KINETIC and Edison are using IoT technology and cloud computing to make the workplace safer for everyone.  — Dean Evans (@evansdp)


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