IBM Watson IoT wants to improve field worker safety with wearables, but could it backfire?

IBM is partnering with Garmin Health, Mitsufuji, and SmartCone on wearables for workers, but other safety measures should not be forgone with the rise of these technologies.

How business can use IoT to conduct more efficient operations At the 2018 AT&T Business Summit, TechRepublic caught up with AT&T's Chris Penrose who shared examples of how IoT can benefit organizations.

On Wednesday, IBM announced collaborations with Garmin Health, Mitsufuji and SmartCone as part of a push for the company's Watson IoT platform to be used to increase worker safety for those in hazardous environments like construction sites, mines, and factories.

IBM envisions wearable technologies capable of monitoring biometric attributes (including heart rate and body temperature), along with environmental attributes (such as height/location, humidity, temperature, noise, and toxic gas levels), as a replacement for "low-tech, outdated practices of accident tracking, education, and prevention," according to a press release.

SEE: Workplace safety policy (Tech Pro Research)

The announcement focuses on three products now interoperable on the IBM Maximo Worker Insights platform:

  • The Garmin Health Companion SDK, which enables the activation of alerts based on definable thresholds from data gathered from near-real-time sensors on Garmin activity trackers
  • Mitsufuji's "hamon wearable shirt," which can track biometric data from the wearer to ensure safety in harsh or extreme environments
  • SmartCone's IoT-based safety and monitoring solutions, which utilize "multi-sensors, audio/video, communication capabilities, computing, and edge gateway capabilities," and when combined with IBM's Maximo Worker Insights platform, provides "near-time notification and historical analytics on hazards related to falls, "man-downs!,", no-go zones, excessive temperatures, and more," according to the release.

Despite the nominal pretense of safety, the maxim of "technology is what you make of it" likely applies here, as a substantial risk exists for taskmaster supervisors who prioritize productivity or measurable output metrics at the expense of all other factors will inevitably find some way to use this technology for evil. It is not difficult to imagine a situation where worker complaints about the safety of a worksite are dismissed as "the system says it is safe."

Without indicting a specific industry for lackadaisical or negligent safety considerations, the concept of replacing "low-tech, outdated practices of accident tracking, education, and prevention," as the press release states, with IoT systems apparently intended to supplant these practices should perhaps frighten rather than encourage any safety officer charged with preventing workplace fatalities.

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By James Sanders

James Sanders is a staff technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI/ML, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on ...