Hot Construction Technology: Wearables

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Although adoption may not be as wide as digital twins, AI (artificial intelligence), 5G, and AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), wearables pose an interesting opportunity to the construction industry and can be categorized as a hot construction technology to watch.

The overall market is anticipated to grow as well—driven largely by consumer demand, although there are potential business applications as well.

Consider this. The global wearable technology market size is expected to reach $118.16 billion by 2028, registering a growth of 13.8% from 2021 to 2028, according to ResearchandMarkets. This is in line with the fact internet penetration is increasing in several countries across the globe.

Grand View Research suggests the market is categorized into neckwear, footwear, wristwear, bodywear, eyewear, and headwear, and others. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these specific areas and the impact on the construction industry.

What’s on Your Wrist?

The wrist-wear segment dominated the market in 2020 and accounted for more than 48.9% marketshare. In the first half of 2020, the watches and wristbands segment suffered a setback as leading manufacturing companies in China struggled with a labor shortage and limited availability of raw materials. As manufacturing units began operations, the market witnessed a mild recovery during the second half of 2020.

According to Counterpoint Research Global Smartwatch Model Tracker, the smartwatch market grew 24% year-over-year in 2021 and recorded the highest ever quarterly shipments in the fourth quarter, which indicates increased interest among both consumers and businesses.

Looking to the future, Fortune Business Insights projects the smartwatch market to rise from $22.02 billion in 2021 to $58.21 billion by 2028 at a 14.9% growth rate.

Large adoption is driven by healthcare and fitness enthusiasts, but there are potential applications for construction. Much like a smartphone is a consumer device, but is used on many construction jobsites, the same can be said about smartwatches. They can be used for worker tracking, health monitoring, and basic project management.

What’s on Your Head?

The eye-wear and head-wear product segment is anticipated to expand at a CAGR of 14.2% from 2021 to 2028. Eye-wear products mainly comprise goggles such as Microsoft HoloLens and Google Glass. Head-mounted display devices are anticipated to witness significant growth during the forecast timeframe. Furthermore, advancements in AR and VR are gaining significant traction, as mentioned last week on this blog.

The worldwide market for AR/VR headsets grew 92.1% year over year in 2021 with shipments reaching 11.2 million units, according to IDC. New entrants as well as broader adoption from the commercial sector will propel the market further as headset shipments are forecast to grow 46.9% year-over-year in 2022 and experience double-digit growth through 2026, as global shipments of AR/VR headsets surpass 50 million units by the end of the forecast with a 35.1% growth rate.

These wearables will become essential in order to enable the business applications that come along with the metaverse that many have been talking about in recent months.

Still, the high cost of such gear could stall adoption—as was the case with the hopeful hard hat from Daqri, which integrated AR glasses. While the concept was unique for construction, high costs, technical challenges, and an inability to pivot quickly stalled the product from gaining mainstream adoption and ultimately led the company to shut its doors for good. So perhaps this is a cautionary tale.

What’s on Your Body?

PPE (personal protective equipment) is a requirement on every construction jobsite and can become connected to minimize exposure to hazards and keep workers safe. Smart PPE then is a wearable device with built-in advanced technologies that monitor and collect realtime data to enhance the security of workers.

Fortune Business Insights suggest the global smart PPE technology market size was $2.74 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow from $3.13 billion in 2021 to $9.05 billion in 2028, which is a 16.4% growth rate. The industrial sector is expected to invest heavily in smart personal protective equipment, and we will see the rise of such equipment as smart gloves, smart protective clothing, and more.

Consider the following example. NFC chips in gloves can allow users to scan data sheets and access information, such as the safety of chemicals and compounds. The chips can also guarantee workers wear safety gloves, or the correct gloves, for handling hazards. Safety gloves can behave like swipe cards on products and may prevent wearers from entering dangerous areas or risking cross-contamination.

Here are some other examples. Chips may also be embedded in the soles of safety shoes to add the ability to detect dangerous conditions such as slip hazards. Additional features might be the ability to notify wearers that they haven’t fastened their shoes properly. Smart workwear can also incorporate 3-D gesture detection technology so that messages can be communicated, allowing the operation of devices without physical contact in hazardous environments.

And this is simply the beginning. The opportunities for wearables in construction are vast. Now, we just need to figure out how to make them affordable, interoperable, and easy to implement across construction jobsites.

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