Volvo CE, Carnegie Mellon launch site safety tech

The OEM and educational institute have jointly developed a software to reduce on-site fatalities, especially in the road construction sector

SiteAware provides 360-degree views to machinery and equipment operators. [Representational Image]
SiteAware provides 360-degree views to machinery and equipment operators. [Representational Image]

Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to identify systems and develop existing technologies which can reduce the number of accidents on construction sites. 

According to a statement released by Carnegie Mellon's Integrated Innovation Institute, "in the last decade, fatal workplace injuries at road construction sites have remained relatively constant, with nearly 1,000 workers dying from workplace-related injuries in 2013 alone, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics (US)."

Carnegie Mellon formally launched the Integrated Innovation Institute in 2014 as a market-focused center designed to speed the pace of innovation by producing master’s degree graduates cross-trained in engineering, design and business.

Volvo CE and Carnegie Mellon's recent partnership has led to the formation of a proposed system, titled SiteAware, which is meant to provide 360-degree views to machinery and equipment operators. 

Using Integrated Innovation Institute's technology called Team Street Smart, graduate students with backgrounds in engineering, design and business, designed an interface which monitors and tackles obstacles, including traffic and pedestrians, even in environments crowded with workers and other machinery.

"More machines are moving toward computational interfaces, providing operators with significantly more information about their environment and the performance of their machine," Jonathan Cagan, director of innovation and entrepreneurship in the university's College of Engineering said.

"SiteAware utilises the available technology to bring together all these factors under one system, creating a safer and viable work environment for all.”

Volvo CE expects to integrate ideas and concepts from the proposal into Volvo’s advanced engineering projects.

During the research phase of the project, Team Street Smart spoke with personnel on the ground – from contractors to site managers to machine operators – to get a holistic picture of roadside construction.

The team also identified key factors which could aid in the reduction of job fatalities, such as eliminating blind spots; providing real-time data positioning; alerting operators and ground workers; and, utilising real-time visualisation to reduce false alarms. 

The proposed solution uses a combination of existing technology to provide greater awareness of the surrounding environment to increase safety without reducing efficiency.

Sensor stacks gather data from connective technology to give machine operators an accurate, real-time representation of their current work environment. 

Also used are systems such as LIDAR, which provides a 360-degree field of view horizontally, 40-degree vertically; an RGB camera system, which has a 130-degree field of view; and RFID tags for on-the-ground personnel, which communicate with antenna on the machine.

The system integrates and aggregates data from multiple sensors to create the most accurate picture of all personnel and equipment in the immediate vicinity, allowing operators to avoid collisions and other incidents.

Two sensor stacks are employed per system, each with three cameras and one LIDAR unit; on-the-ground personnel are equipped with personalized RFID tags.

The data collected is then transferred to a screen on the operator’s dashboard, showing the locations of other workers and machines.

If a worker is too close, the system issues a combination of visual and auditory warnings to the operator. The screen in the cab displays a visual cue while an audio warning identifies by name any worker who is too close.

The team included name recognition as it has been proven to “cut through the noise” and is more likely to attract the operator’s attention.

Finally, perimeter lights around the machine act as a “visual fence,” reminding other workers and pedestrians to keep a safe distance.

“The outcome of this project is proof of the power and value of collaborating with an academic institution that puts a premium on integrated innovation,” Dr Fares Beainy, research engineer in Volvo CE's Emerging Technology department said.

"We gave the students a simple mandate, without any restrictions or limitations: to design the future road construction operator’s workplace, with an emphasis on safety.

"The students developed new ideas and, in the process, brought forth improvements that will make an impact in the field. Ultimately, that means saving lives.”

Volvo CE will publish the results of the students’ research instead of pursuing proprietary rights.

"We view this as a way to challenge our entire industry to reconsider how it thinks about safety,” said Dr. Beainy.

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