A team of rising stars from Atkins has responded to the Construction 2025 challenge by developing a piece of wearable technology which aims to streamline procedures and improve health and safety on site.
In summer this year New Civil Engineer launched a Dragons’ Den-style competition to find solutions to the Construction 2025 challenge. When they became aware of the competition, Alex Garman, Lily Webb and James Etherington, all young engineers working at Atkins, decided to respond.
As the team sat down to brainstorm ideas, the concept which created the most excitement was the use of wearable technology to improve and optimise working conditions on site.
Siteband was born.
The idea was to develop a wristband containing workers’ health and safety records and which can record heart rate and vibrations generated by construction machinery.
This data plus personal records and records of briefings attended could then be collated and kept on a site cloud storage database. This would reduce the need for on site form filling and make it quicker for managers to call up information. “These are all of the things that something like a Fitbit [a piece of wearable technology that monitors fitness in the consumer market] does,” says Etherington. “All of this technology exists, so we thought ‘why can’t that technology be applied to a construction site?’”
The idea was shortlisted and the team was invited to the initial round of judging in London.
Etherington says that the first session focused on how they would take the product to market, however without even a working prototype, he found it tough. But after a gruelling questioning session with the “Dragons” , the strength of the team’s desire and comprehensive thinking pushed them through to the next round – this time requiring them to present to a room of roughly 300 people, plus the “dragons”, at the NCE Future Tech Forum.
Your wrist could be scanned to see if you have any medical problems if there are any accidents on site. These would then be uploaded to a cloud storage database
James Etherington, Atkins
The team’s presentation was so successful that Siteband was awarded first prize. But that was just the beginning of the journey. The team then took the comments from the judges on board and developed the product further to make it a more viable product to take to market.
“We asked ourselves, how realistic is this?” says Etherington. “How would a site actually pay for it? Can we make a cheap product which we could distribute on site easily?”
This development of the project led to a staged approach to rolling the Siteband out to site. This would allow the product to be developed and funded at the same time.
The first generation will be quite simple, says Etherington. It will include a chip which will interface with near field communication (NFC) readers enabling workers to get into site and get equipment out of storage.
“[Information about who attended] tool box talks on particular subjects could automatically be stored on the band which could then be scanned to say that a worker or operative has been to that talk,” says Etherington.
“Your wrist could be scanned to see if you have any medical problems if there are any accidents on site. These would then be uploaded to a cloud storage database.”
The second generation will have a communication bar on it, so you could send out messages to your employees. Successive bands are planned after these.
For now, the team is focusing on making a working prototype and securing funding.
“The actual band itself is very easy to manufacture with a chip in it,” says Etherington. “It’s the software behind it which we’re currently looking into. We want to see if it’s possible to program it ourselves, or to get someone to do it for us.”
The dragons and the winners
- Tim Embley - Costain group innovation & knowledge manager
- Mark Wray - Innovate UK lead technologist, low impact building innovation platform
- Tim Broyd - UCL chair of built environment foresight
- Paul Zanelli - Transport Systems Catapult chief technical officer
- Simon Harrison - Mott MacDonald group strategic development manager
The winning team
- James Etherington: Atkins civil engineer
Etherington graduated from Southampton University and has been working for Atkins for just over two years. He is currently working in the maritime department and has worked on the Swansea and Cardiff Lagoon projects. He says that his motivation for engineering stems from the fascination in solving some of the country’s biggest challenges through larger, more intricate engineering problems.
- Lily Webb - University of Surrey masters student
Webb is currently studying for a Masters in civil engineering at Surrey University, but joined Atkins for two summer placements and a professional training year. She has worked on Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and has participated in business development meetings in the airports sector. Earlier this year she won the South East Regional Award, through the Women in Property’s National Student Awards scheme.
- Alex Garman – Atkins graduate civil engineer
Garman graduated from Bristol University and joined Atkins’ graduate development programme in 2012. He has first-hand experience of working on site having completed a secondment to Sir Robert McAlpine as a site engineer working on Bloomberg’s new HQ in the City of London. He says that the excitement of seeing the work he does have a direct impact on the built environment and on improving people’s lives is what he most enjoys about his job.
Comments from the Dragons
Embley : Wearable technology is changing our lives. As an industry we need to use this to make our environment safer and more productive. Etherington clearly articulated the market need and how his solution would address some of those challenges. I was particularly impressed with his level of knowledge and professionalism. He was able to understand the technical and business drivers to provide very comprehensive and clear response to the judges’ questions.
Harrison: Siteband was a clear winner, even though it was relatively early in the development cycle. A unique and differentiated product with a clear and substantial application. The benefits were well-articulated and routes to development, market and upgrade path were well thought-through.
Zanelli: Siteband takes advantage of recent developments in wearable technology, mobile communications, condition monitoring and data analysis. It combines a set of off the shelf components into a novel solution that has the potential to significantly improve productivity whilst increasing safety on construction sites.
The Siteband proposal included a realistic well considered plan of how this solution could be developed and taken to market with a realistic view on development costs and payback period.
Can you solve the Construction 2025 challenge?
The government’s Construction 2025 vision calls for a 33% reduction in the cost of construction and the whole life cost of managing infrastructure assets.
The government also wants to halve greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment, and halve the time it takes to build our infrastructure.
And with the global market for integrated city systems forecast to be worth £200bn per year by 2030, it wants us to embrace industry transformation, ready to take a world lead.
NCE set the challenge to find four smart, efficient and technologically advanced rising stars to pitch their ideas on how to meet that 2025 vision to a panel of visionary industry leaders.