A pitch competition at DSpace, Deloitte’s rapid prototyping hub for development of emerging technologies, revealed an intriguing concept: mining companies could deploy wearables for their mining personnel to improve operations and lower costs.
This proof of concept had the potential to highlight how innovation can make a mine safer and more productive. Understanding a miner’s location, as well as their activity and personal environmental factors, improves safety, speeds up operations, and lowers costs by allowing operators to dynamically control ventilation and allocate resources.
The challenge was to create a wearable vital signs monitor that would work with existing personal protective equipment (PPE). It needed to measure miners’ heart rate, oxygen, fatigue, location, and adverse environmental conditions — without asking the miners to change their workflow.
Deloitte has a deep understanding of design thinking, but wearables hardware development was new territory for them. They had a proof of concept, but they needed the right partner to turn it into a workable, marketable product. Our deep expertise in vital signs monitoring wearables led them to us.
We went underground to do an ethnographic study of mining personnel in action. Real mines, real miners. This led us to a few key product insights:
- The original concept, a wrist-worn wearable with a touch-based interface, isn’t feasible in real-world underground conditions.
- Workers will resist a wearable that attaches sensors right to their body. Location and activity tracking gives the same actionable data (where are they? Are they safe?) as vital signs monitoring, while making the device much easier to adopt.
- The mining industry is resistant to change, with ingrained safety protocols. A device that attaches to existing helmets augments miners’ capability without changing their PPE.
- A modular sensor allows mine operators to hotswap sensors for mines with different environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, oxygen level, presence of methane, carbon monoxide, etc.).