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Raising the bar on safety with data analytics

Organisations in Japan and Australia are improving worker safety and reducing bus accidents with data analytics and wearables

With fatigue being one of the top causes of bus accidents worldwide, keeping tabs on a driver’s physical condition while on the road is the key to reducing road fatalities.

In October 2016, SAP and Japanese IT service provider NTT conducted a trial with Keifuku Bus, which operates a fleet of 200 public buses serving the Fukui prefecture in Japan, to nip the problem in the bud.

Using NTT’s hitoe, a tight shirt fitted with sensors jointly developed with Toray Industries, and the NTT internet of things (IoT) analytics platform, Keifuku has been able to keep a lookout for drivers with signs of fatigue in real time.

The data, such as heart rate, is then analysed using algorithms developed by medical institutions in Japan to detect unusual driver behaviour as well as physiological conditions such as stress and nervousness. A bus operations manager could act on this data by calling a driver, or replacing the driver at the nearest terminal.

Additionally, telematics data collected from sensors installed on the buses is used by Keifuku to track the location and speed of every bus in its fleet. All the data is encrypted and transmitted through the internet to an application that sits on the SAP Cloud Platform.

Uwe Bohnhorst, chief operating officer of NTT subsidiary Itelligence, said the idea for the project arose out a spate of bus accidents in Japan in 2016, including a fatal one in Karuizawa that claimed 15 lives.

“We wanted to see how we can use the power of technology to make the planet safer and more secure,” Bohnhorst told Computer Weekly on the sidelines of SAP Sapphire in Orlando.

Besides Keifuku, Itelligence has also approached other bus companies in the US to conduct similar trials, but it has been facing roadblocks due to cost and privacy concerns.

“It may sound weird, but safety is not on the agenda of some bus companies,” he said, adding that the company is now looking to markets such as Singapore to conduct similar trials.

Read more about IoT and data analytics in APAC

While Itelligence had underestimated the privacy challenges and attitudes towards safety by some transportation companies, it is not giving up.

Bohnhorst said the company is now building more business cases, such as giving transport operators the ability to negotiate lower insurance premiums as result of fewer accidents.

Itelligence had better luck outside the transportation industry. “We are talking to a mining company in Australia that is interested in using hitoe to improve worker safety,” said Bohnhorst.

IBM is another IT supplier that has been trying to improve worker safety using IoT and data analytics. The company is working with Melbourne-based steel producer North Star Bluescope Steel in a trial to identity workers who may be suffering from heat stress.

Similar to the itelligent project, data is collected from sensors that monitor a worker’s skin body temperature, heart rate, galvanic skin response and level of activity.

This data is then correlated with sensor data for ambient temperature and humidity, enabling Northstar to advise the worker to take a break in the shade, if temperatures rise to unsafe levels.

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