Lid for Life

Duke engineers develope a hardhat to prevent accidents
January 31, 2011
 
Heading in the right direction: early prototype of the SmartHat.

Heading in the right direction: early prototype of the SmartHat.
Jochen Teizer/Georgia Tech

The hardhat—a ubiquitous, low-tech presence at construction sites for some eighty years—may soon be receiving an upgrade into the digital age. Matt Reynolds, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has designed a microprocessor that can be fitted inside a hardhat and alert a worker if he is coming close to a piece of heavy machinery. Despite the best efforts of contractors and government regulators, accidents on construction sites cause more than 800 deaths each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Earth movers, bulldozers, and cranes emit radio waves with information about their position. The microprocessor, which Reynolds dubs the SmartHat, will capture those signals and emit a high-pitched alarm when there is danger of a collision. Reynolds and his partners still have work to do to integrate the chip into the hardhats without compromising their structural integrity.