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The Future of Wearable Technology

EHSQ Content Team

This article was produced from a recorded interview in March of 2018 between Eric Martinez, CEO and Founder of Modjoul, a wearable technology firm based in the United States and Rob Harrison, Director of Content Strategy for the EHSQ Alliance .  

Why did you start Modjoul? 
 
I was the head of AIG’s global claims and operations unit. I managed upwards of $50 billion in losses a year, mostly in workers compensation. I saw about 30,000 injuries pass through my desk per month. I wanted to get at the root causes of worker injuries to prevent or mitigate their impact on the worker and the organization. I started Modjoul to keep workers safer and be more productive in the workplace.  

How does wearable technology keep people safe in the workplace?  

We like to think of ourselves as a data analytics company. Our SmartBelt has eight sensors plus GPS to detect the user’s motion and environment. We collect 37 motion metrics, plus environmental factors like temperature, heat index and humidity. Feedback comes in the form of vibration to instigate immediate correction, as well as data for analysis by the employee and their supervisor. 

One customer asked us if we could determine whether or not employees were walking under cranes, or putting themselves in other potentially dangerous situations. The answer is yes. Another customer asked if we could determine the rate of acceleration as a worker was picking something up, to find out if it was too jerky and therefore unsafe. We measure sensor motions every 0.1 seconds, so the answer is yes. Wearables keep workers safe by measuring their movements and providing immediate feedback as well as long term analysis capability for behavioral corrections.  

What developments have you seen in wearable technology since you started the company? 

Because we’re so new and people are just realizing what these sensors can do, it’s an expanding universe of applications. Customers are going deeper and asking for new and innovative uses. For instance, if the sensor can be placed on knees to understand strain, or on other items to track their whereabouts. These questions are helping to drive the technology forward.  

The cost of a wearable is also changing. It is dictated by the radio cost on the belt (Bluetooth, WIFI or cellular). Once you have your base design finished, there are additional features that can be built in. Our customers are bringing us new ideas all the time, from wanting to measure air quality to UV exposure to proximity to high consequence equipment and exposure to noise.  

What challenges you and your team the most?  

The hardest thing to do is design the user interface for the customer. Currently we measure thirty seven metrics, and that number is growing so that we will probably be at 50 by summer 2018. Those metrics will measure all sorts of data that may or may not be relevant to different personas. Each of our customers will use the technology in their unique environments and will want to see that breadth of information filtered to their needs. We have to make each UI customer-specific.  

One complaint from environmental and safety leaders is they are already drowning in data. What strategy can they apply with wearable technology?  

Throughout the day we collect approximately 50 MB of data on an employee. About 90% of the time the employee is doing everything correctly and it is very boring data to look at. The key for an analytics company here is finding the zebra amongst the herd of horses. For instance, we gather enough data to describe the act of bending by the angle at which they are bending, the duration of the bend, whether they are bending with a twist, whether they accelerated during the movement, and whether they accelerated while twisting. That's a lot of information. What you’re interested in are bends that are greater than 45 degrees, greater than 45 degrees with a twist, with an accelerator, or both. We can isolate those occurrences that put the employee at risk.  

We can also determine what task they are performing incorrectly and exactly what time of day it is being performed. Factors like fatigue, fitness level, skill level, and job design all contribute to the likelihood of potential injury. We can show the safety professional that the worker is doing something improperly, their level of training, and when it is happening. Those are the pieces of the puzzle that are useful because then it can result in real change, whether it is more training, rescheduling difficult tasks for different times in the day, or matching an employee's level of fitness to the tasks at hand. 

What kind of organization is a good candidate for the use of wearables? How do they get started?  

I think this answer will shock you. When we started Modjoul we combed through publicly available data looking for companies with the worst track records, the highest number of incidents, and the most workplace injuries. It made sense to us that these companies would be the most eager to embrace wearable technology. This was not the case at all. What we actually found is that these companies are the least likely to adopt innovation in health and safety strategy because the problem is so systemic they don't know where to start. On the other hand, companies with good or great safety records that understand the importance of the health and wellbeing of their employees, these are the best candidates. They are already leaders in the field who feel that they can still improve, and they are able to easily integrate the technology into their already existing strategy. It’s more about a culture than a single process.  

One of the ways to get started is to do so modestly. It won't work if you drop the technology on one person in each department. The key for wearables is you have to have a sense of comparison. You are going to be looking at data you’ve never seen before, so in the beginning you lack the ability to benchmark or find the outliers. You have to start with enough people to do good baseline comparisons, ideally ten to 20.   

You mentioned the vibration feature on the SmartBelt. Is that the primary feedback? What does the user feel? 

There are three stages of response. 

First, there is a haptic response on the belt that can be configured for the employee’s individual needs. For instance, if they bend at an angle more than 60 degrees the belt will vibrate for three seconds, a noticeable haptic response that informs the employee they are doing something wrong and must correct immediately. These immediate feedback mechanisms in the belt are programmed by the customer.  

Second, the employee gets their scorecard on a daily, weekly, monthly, and/or yearly basis. They can track their improvement, or lack thereof.  

Third, the supervisor has their screen which shows the employees who have the most potential for injury or incident and those employees can be targeted for improvement.  

Given everything you have learned to date with Modjoul, how do you see the market evolving? 

We talk about the connected worker, and it's up to us whether it’s the head, shoulder, back, knees, ankles, or whatever part of the body that is connected and monitored. We are able to address the need for new connections based on feedback from our customers as they start to use the technology. 

I think we will see a proliferation in determining what kinds of activities can be detected and potentially corrected. Currently we are tracking five activities with five more in the pipeline. Bending is an activity and the metrics would be duration, count, pitch, acceleration or with twist. We classify it first as an activity and then we evaluate it for metrics.  

I think you will see wearables talking to machines and buildings, telling an employee their proximity to forklifts, whether or not you can be near or engage with a specific machine, etc. Their certifications and training will be put into the cloud, so if they are not authorized or trained on a machine they are attempting to use or interacting with, it won’t turn on and they will be made aware of the potential hazard.  

We have a new generation entering the workforce, and attracting the right talent is as important as ever. Do you think wearables can help attract the right employees? 

It’s a double-edged sword. The good organizations will figure out how to do that and the bad organizations are going to use these wearables as a reason to terminate employees instead of training up. For a millennial the level of tracking is so detailed that it can be intimidating. Is that data going to be put towards creating a wellness program? Or, is it going to be used to monitor and punish employees? It is a governance issue and companies need to be very clear about their motivation. Using wearable technology, the right way, is about recognizing that employees are our greatest asset, and eliminating injuries in the workplace by reinforcing positive behaviour and creating a culture of safety should be the number one goal.  

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Prior to founding Modjoul, Eric Martinez served as Executive Vice President of Claims and Operations at American International Group, Inc. Prior to that, he served as the CEO of United Guaranty Corporation, and prior to that he served as Executive Vice President for Claims and Service of Safeco Corp. In his time working in the insurance industry, Mr. Martinez saw too many unnecessary workplace injuries and fatalities, which led to the creation of Modjoul. Mr. Martinez holds a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University and a Master's in Business Administration from Valdosta State University. 

April 19, 2018 @ 05:47 PM EDT

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