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Wearable sensors come in all shapes and sizes and are designed to be comfortably worn on different parts of the body depending on their use case.

Source: ResearchGate

Relevance to the Future of Logistics

Process Intelligence

Optimizing operational processes is essential, especially for manual processes which typically lack visibility. Here the use of wearable sensors enables automatic collection of data and insights replacing current manual processes.

Examples range from heatmaps indicating in real time the occupation of certain areas of an operational facility using solutions from providers such as Kontakt.io and Quuppa to achieve highly detailed analyses of people’s motions, taking industrial engineering projects to the next level. For example, MotionMiners, a German startup, has developed a GDPR-compliant solution that leverages data collected from purpose-built wearable devices during a temporary installation to identify process waste and improvement potential. The automation of data collection leads to larger, more detailed data sets which are free from observation biases. Data can be automatically analyzed using algorithms to generate detailed insights and enable data-based decision making.

Ergonomic Health

Ergonomic hazards in the workplace are one of the main causes of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) which are the most common work-related health issue in the EU, leading to high cost resulting from sick leave and workers having to retire early. Wearable sensors can be used to lower the MSD risk with the main levers being redesign of the workplace and training employees to adjust their actions to more ergonomically friendly movement.

Predimo is an example startup focused on leveraging wearable sensor technology to assess ergonomic risk in the workplace and identify improvement potential. Soter Analytics and Kinetic are two providers out of many that offer wearable sensors for ergonomic training purposes. The idea is to give real-time feedback to a user by vibrating or beeping when a hazardous movement such as bending and twisting is performed. These solutions create awareness and trigger a change of behavior over time, reducing the amount of hazardous movements performed. Also, vital body data captured through wearable sensors has various applications such as fatigue detection and alerting when certain stress levels are reached.

Location Identification

The ability to track employee location in real time opens an array of application fields. One of them mentioned under process intelligence are heatmaps that show the live distribution of employees in a facility. In congested areas, this can enable identification of problem areas flagged for potential layout redesign. Another use case which requires very high accuracy and data transmission in real time is collision warning inside an operational facility to prevent accidents between pedestrians and forklifts. An alert would be given to both the driver and the pedestrian to prevent likely collision.

Another very interesting application is leveraging wearable sensors for automated reporting. The collection of data about an operational employee’s time spent in certain physical areas of a facility that serves multiple customers can automate the capturing of work hours attributable to each customer; this also allows for a fully automated billing process. In addition, wearable sensors can automate access control within a facility, restricting access to certain areas or to the use of particular vehicles and tools based on the individual’s experience or training level.

Challenges

Wearable sensors raise data protection concerns about sharing personal and performance information with the employer; to succeed, solution providers must ensure GDPR-compliant anonymization of data.
Infrastructure requirements are highly dependent on the level of precision and the frequency of data sharing required; especially for real-time location system (RLTS) use cases, infrastructure investment is significant and may not provide sufficient return on investment for a single application.
As more wearable sensor use cases arrive, there is a risk of overloading the employee with wearables and sensors; companies should avoid introducing new hardware for every new application and be mindful of the amount of beeping or vibrating alerts an employee can bear at once.

This trend should be CLOSELY monitored, with implementations available for many use cases today.

Outlook

Most successful applications for wearable sensors today require little infrastructure and typically rely on purpose-built wearables for each use case. Here at DHL, we already see a trend towards leveraging existing wearable devices such as smart glasses and wearable scanners for data collection. In the future, however, we anticipate a democratization of devices and support infrastructure, bringing down the cost per use case, with generic gateways lowering the entry barrier for applications, especially those requiring accurate localization. We also see technological advancements – like the miniaturization of electronic components, flexible printed circuit boards (PCBs), and increased battery life – accelerating the subtle integration of sensors into clothing. Relatedly, but in another direction, we also see further into the future the development and possible movement of sensors from on the human body to inside the body as multifunctional implants.

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