Kristen Hines and Tom Martin model the latest sitewear (Virginia Tech)

Innovation

Vest warns workers if they’re about to be run over

14 September 2015 | By GCR Staff | 3 Comments

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute have produced a high visibility jacket that warns construction workers if they are in danger of being hit by a vehicle.

The InZoneAlert jacket incorporates a combined short-wave radio and GPS tracker unit that communicates with another in the vehicle. When the two appear to be on a collision course, the jacket warns the pedestrian to take evasive action and a dashboard device tells the driver to brake.

Roadside deaths are a major problem and the advent of connected vehicle [technology] has opened up new opportunities for a technical solution that will save lives– Andy Alden, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

“Any warning we can give them is better than no warning at all,” said Kristen Hines, a doctoral student who helped develop the system.

According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 579 people were killed in highway work-zone related incidents in 2013.

Tom Martin, a professor with Virginia College of Engineering, which also worked on the project, said: “There are a lot of roadside workers who are not necessarily on construction sites who could benefit from such a warning. Anyone who has to be out on the interstate with passing vehicles could benefit from an individualized warning.”

Martin began developing the technology in 2013. The main challenge at first was to make it convenient to wear. Over the course of the following two years the radio unit shrank from a rucksack to the dimensions of a mobile phone. The research team now intends to make it as small as  a packet of chewing gum.

The team also wanted to make the alarm distinct but not jarring. Martin said: “We don't want to add to the worker’s cognitive load. We don’t want to give them false alarms. We just want to give them a few seconds notice to know that someone is coming toward them and then give them a chance to get out of the way.”

Hines said the alarm could sound inside hearing protection devices, or it may use vibrations. She added: “Another possible way is to include tactile alerts that use a person’s sense of touch. This ranges from vibrations or your clothing suddenly shrinking on you or your cuffs compressing.”

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will now test the vest in real-world demonstrations that involve highway-speed traffic. The institute is also working on vehicle-to-vehicle to vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

Andy Alden, another researcher with the institute, said: “We’ve been simulating the concept in demos done on the Smart Road along with other applications such as animal detection and collision avoidance.

“Roadside deaths are a major problem and the advent of connected vehicle [technology] has opened up new opportunities for a technical solution that will save lives,” said Alden, adding that with proper investment, the vest could start appearing along highways within five years.

Find out more here.