Space research energises construction wearable

  • January 25, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Space research project Sprint is helping construction technology company Mafic develop energy harvesting for its Safeguard IoT wearable built into a hard hat.

Safeguard is a wearable device that uses a GNSS sensor and captures location data from plant, materials and construction workers. It is aimed at enabling the real-time communication and analysis of data from remote locations to improve the productivity and industrial health of workforces.

Mafic has signed up to the UK’s Sprint business support programme for the third time to optimise the energy management of Safeguard so users will be less reliant on a power source and deploy Safeguard into remote environments with little supporting infrastructure, such as on-board commercial ships, offshore or on remote construction sites. 

Mafic will collaborate with Sprint partner University of Southampton to design a suitable energy transfer and harvesting system for extending the battery life of Safeguard. The project will exploit technology developed by the university to increase the range at which the devices can be charged, reduce the power consumption of the Safeguard device, enhance wireless power transfer rate during charging and increase the alignment tolerance when being wirelessly charged.

The project will be funded by a grant from the £5m Sprint (SPace Research & Innovation Network for Technology) programme that provides access to university space expertise and facilities. Sprint helps businesses through the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies.

On the two previous Sprint projects, Mafic collaborated with the University of Southampton on developing machine learning for Safeguard. As a result, Mafic’s technology has now been incorporated into wearable devices worn by the workforce as well as positioned on vehicles and materials.

“Whereas the first two Sprint projects were developing the new technology, this new one considers the power management capabilities to round out the technology and enable us to deploy our IoT devices in remote, challenging environments,” said Will Woodhead, managing director at Mafic. “The holy grail is to produce an autonomous device that measures and communicates from wherever it is, so the exploration of energy harvesting and wireless energy transfer takes us closer to that. This time, we’re working with the university’s electronics and computer science team and the expansion of our network of talent is invaluable to us as a start-up.”

The Sprint projects will further develop the wearable Safeguard devices through implementation with workforces, on vehicles and in materials at key customer sites including Robert McAlpine and Errigal Contracts.

“The Mafic device is a game-changer for us,” said Sir Ben Ainslie, team principal at Ineos Team. “It allows us to look at our working practices and make changes to that to ensure everyone is as safe as possible.”

The University of Southampton is among the top 100 institutions globally according to QS World University Rankings 2020. It inspires a 24,000-strong community of students from over 135 countries.

“The key objectives of this Sprint project are reducing the power consumption of the Safeguard device, harvesting energy and optimising the charging of the hard hat,” said Alex Weddell, lecturer at the University of Southampton. “We have a long history of working in energy harvesting, including the design and development of power management subsystems for CubeSats. More recently, we have explored wireless power transfer technology, which also has applications in space. We are excited to explore how energy harvesting from light, movement or temperature differences can be used to extend the battery life of Mafic’s Safeguard IoT device.”

Sprint is supported by Research England, Scottish Funding Council and UK Space Agency. It is being delivered by a consortium of five of the UK’s space universities, led by the University of Leicester. The other four are University of Edinburgh, Open University, University of Southampton and University of Surrey.

Mafic is a UK company using a combination of machine learning, cloud services and the IoT. The application of Industry 4.0 technology to the traditional heavy industries such as commercial shipbuilding and upstream oil and gas construction can improve productivity and the wellbeing of the workforce.