Rethinking Industrial Safety: Guardhat's Astounding Achievement
In construction and manufacturing environments, accidents lie waiting to happen around every corner due to unforeseen hazards. The reason industrial jobs remain so deadly till date is that the technology in this sector has evolved very little over the past decades in comparison to other jobs. However, over the last few years, we can notice a sharp spike in the launch of start-ups aiming to improve worker safety with the help of advanced technologies such as smart gadgets and IoT to effectively predict accidents and therefore prevent them from happening.
A prime example of one such start-up would be Guardhat Inc. Guardhat Inc. is a Detroit based start-up which has developed wearable safety gadgets and proprietary software to improve the safety of industrial workers. It is co-founded by NIT Rourkela alumni, Mr Saikat Dey (Mining and Mineral Engineering, the batch of 1997) and Mr Anupam Sengupta (Electrical Engineering, the batch of 1997).
Recently, Guardhat's new tech-enabled hard hat, the HC1 Communicator, has been covered by Time Magazine in the 100 Best Innovations of 2020. Industrial workers face many dangers at work sites, where heavy machinery, confined spaces and hazardous materials can lead to severe injuries and even deaths. The HC1 Communicator is equipped with sensors that can monitor the working environment, the number of hours spent in that environment and monitor physiological irregularities.
Team Monday Morning had a chat with Mr Saikat Dey, CEO & Co-founder of Guardhat Inc. to discuss the inception of the startup, the success of the HC1 Communicator and their plans of expansion in the time to come.
All About Guardhat
The original idea behind Guardhat was forged in 2014, at a blast furnace melting iron in Detroit, United States. The startup has since been making safety hardware products and software solutions to go along with them for the ever-neglected frontline workers in the industry. The real-life, hands-on experience of the Co-founders and those working at Guardhat has handed them a massive advantage over their competition as they have first-hand knowledge of the trials and tribulations faced by those at work and hence, they can make products which are both accessible and suitable to the needs of the frontline workers.
When asked about the usual inception story, Mr Saikat Dey had the following to say:
Prior to Guardhat, I worked as the CEO of Severstal, one of the largest steelmakers globally. While taking a walk through a blast furnace on the evening of Christmas Eve, I saw a worker whose CO monitor started buzzing. I waited in the shadows to see how he responds to it. He simply dropped his work tools and went outside and waited till the buzzing stopped. When he decided to come back, the buzzing started again. I came out of hiding and asked him if this was the right operating procedure, and in his reply, he said that he had been doing it for the past 25 years without any problem. Fast forward to my weekly staff meeting; I asked the Head of Safety as to why incidents like these go unreported, and he said that only serious accidents/injuries were reported and this got me thinking of how much of these incidents go unnoticed. These thoughts led me to draw a concept on a piece of paper, and I gave it to Anupam Sengupta (who was my classmate from REC Rourkela and was then working as the RCIO at Severstal) to find a solution in the market but he couldn't. So, at the end of 2014, we had divested all our assets outside Russia and were faced with two options- Leading a successful steel manufacturing company or doing something for the safety of the workers of an industry we were well acquainted with, and we chose the latter.
The HC1 Communicator & The Accomplishment
The HC1 Communicator is Guardhat's flagship smart hard hat that provides sensor-based contextual awareness of the surroundings, high-precision real-time positioning and proximity detection, comprehensive audio-visual telecommunications, peripheral connectivity and many more features, with an ergonomic and user-friendly interface.
Mr Saikat Dey mentioned his inspiration behind developing such a product:
We wanted functionalities like speech recognition, speakers, temperature sensing, real-time location of the worker and we soon came to the realisation that the best place for our smart wearable would be on or around the head. Also, we thought the helmet was the least a worker had to wear to work in every industry. So, the intersection of these two factors led to our smart wearable taking the form factor of a helmet.
The benefits provided by the smart hard hat are massive and very promising considering the need for safety, security, communication and productivity. There are very few smart helmets available in the market. When asked about what makes HC1 Communicator different from the other hard hats, he said:
Firstly, the HC1 is a very versatile device. Some smart wearables offer you audio and video support; some give you the real-time location and the others have Cellular/WiFi support. With the HC1 Communicator, all these features are included in the first place and you don't have to look elsewhere. Secondly, the basic job of a helmet is to keep you safe, and the safety certification tests are quite stringent, and yet the HC1 has passed all the necessary safety certifications. Finally, the HC1 has been certified as intrinsically safe meaning that it can be used in a volatile atmosphere without any fear of an electrical spark.
The HC1 Communicator was recently covered by Time Magazine in the 100 best innovations of 2020. Incorporating such kind of next-gen technology in the workplaces will not only take care of safety, but it will also aid the company to overview the work of different workers remotely. Mr Saikat had the following to say about their huge accomplishment:
It was a very satisfying feeling to have been mentioned and to be well recognised after putting in 6 years of work. Our vision at Guardhat has always been to save lives, and recognition is an embodiment of that vision.
A Look into Guardhat's Other Products
The introduction of smart gadgets and software is now giving rise to an unprecedented level of visibility into workers' health and their environments. Whether it is wearable hardware, connectivity infrastructure, or a software, Guardhat has an integrated suite of purpose-built products that are uniquely designed to meet the workers' safety and productivity.
Guardhat has a range of not only wearable products but also software. The products and software are specifically designed to be modular, extensible and are built for the real-world.
The high-tech wearable devices available in Guardhat act as one's smart personal assistants. All the wearables are designed to provide protection for operation in real-world job-sites, have local compute and storage capabilities and are powered by rechargeable batteries. These gadgets continuously capture vital physical metrics like heart rate, skin temperature, movement, activity, location, etc.
Apart from HC1 Communicator, Guardhat has a few other smart wearable gadgets, which solely aim to meet the ever-growing demands of safety, security and productivity. To list a few:
- TA1 Tag: It is a small form factor, a ruggedised, body-worn device with a touch display. It provides location-tracking, audio-visual telecommunications, safety features such as SoS, proximity detection, etc.
- HF1 Finder: It is a smart hard hat that provides high-precision location tracking along with chiefly considering workers' safety applications while sporting the same interface as the HC1.
- RHEA Android app: It provides location tracking and core safety features (SOS, fall detection, man-down, proximity detection) using the host phone's hardware.
Software is at the heart of Guardhat's solutions ecosystem. The sensor data enables managers to watch out for critical information about employees' working conditions and their exposure to external dangers. This software helps in enhancing workers' health, wellness and productivity by diagnosing and preventing future incidents. The software which Guardhat uses are listed below:
- Kyra IIoT Platform: It is Guardhat's general-purpose Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform. It is built to work with Guardhat's wearables (HC1, HF1, TA1, and the Rhea app) as well as with compatible 3rd party devices from their partners.
- Safety Control Center (SCC): This is Guardhat's primary portal application for real-time monitoring, visualizations, system interactions and response management.
- Guardhat Analytics
Mr Saikat Day had the following to say about how the products and software managed to bring a change to the industrial work scenario:
We have had multiple examples where we have demonstrated the prevention of accidents. Whether it is a forklift hitting a human being, or preventing people from being very close to each other, especially during the COVID-19 situations with social distancing, with the help of automatic contact tracing.
A Look into the Future
As the industry grows and the innovators push the envelope further, wearables will become safer day by day. The evolving industries grant companies ample room to innovate wearable devices with more safety features.
When asked about the future plans of Guardhat, Mr Dey said:
Our vision is to impact as many workers' lives as possible in terms of making them safer and more productive. For the next couple of years, we plan to expand as quickly as possible with respect to the marketing angle by doing many more partnerships.
Ultimately if you do the right thing of making and designing products and software that aim towards making frontline workers more productive or safer, the financial rewards will follow. We do not chase financial rewards as the first thing. We always chase the human outcome as the first thing and everything else is a by-product of that. And we hope to be one of those companies which NIT Rourkela can look forward to being their version of a unicorn in the future. However, not by just commercially selling something better, but making something which fundamentally establishes the importance of human life.
Team Monday Morning congratulates Guardhat Inc for their recent accomplishment of being covered by TIME Magazine and hopes to see it grow by leaps and bounds in the near future.