Researchers and companies jointly developed a wearable technology solution for firefighters. It allows real-time monitoring of heat stress, thus improving the occupational health and safety in challenging temperatures.
In many professions, temperature causes major challenges to thermal comfort and occupational safety. For example, in emergency missions of fire and rescue services as well as in mines and construction sites, the working conditions often cause extreme physical strain. Since physically strenuous tasks in hot conditions wearing appropriate protective clothing and equipment often cause high heat stress, it would be ideal if the amount of such stress could be monitored in real time during the performance of different work tasks.
The Smart Clothing 2.0 project, funded jointly by Business Finland and 10 Finnish companies and research organisations, has developed in collaboration between VTT and various companies a new method for monitoring the development of the Physiological Strain Index in real time.
"The new method has been tested at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Oulu and at the Emergency Services College in Kuopio. Based on the first tests, it would seem to offer a very promising tool for commanding rescue missions and enhancing the occupational health and safety of firefighters," says Principal Scientist Pekka Tuomaala from VTT.
The current smart clothing market already offers different garment solutions with heating elements, but they all require manual adjustment of the heating. To enhance the thermal comfort of the wearers, the Smart Clothing 2.0 research project also developed a new heat control concept, which adjusts the heating autonomously − in accordance with the wearer's personal needs. This autonomous control system takes account of the ambient temperature and the wearer's own heat generation, the individual body composition and the level of activity at any given time. In smart clothing, the individual heat control can also be used for improving the thermal conform of such groups as people working outdoors, athletes, children and people engaged in outdoor activities.
Productisation of smart clothing under way
The participants in the project aim to bring the benefits provided by smart clothing to the consumer market and make them available to various users.
"We are very excited about the results of the Smart Clothing 2.0 project. The project enables the implementation of major new smart clothing concepts and gives us an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the wide range of applications enabled by Suunto's open Movesense sensor platform. We are currently negotiating with several customer companies about productisation projects that would allow us to put our research results rapidly into practice," says Terho Lahtinen, Senior Manager, Future Concepts, from Suunto.
Savox, also involved in the project, develops both products and technology solutions aimed at helping the end users perform their tasks more efficient while keeping them safe.
"According to our vision, smart clothing designed for professional use is about to reach the level of maturity where the quality and efficiency of commercial solutions meet the end users' requirements. Based on business negotiations we have had with our customers and partners, we will continue the active development of this business area. We are particularly satisfied with the way the project has succeeded in the area where customer needs and methodology development cross paths. From these positions, it is good to continue both research and commercial development," says Sami Paihonen, CTO of Savox.
Different commercialisation options of new smart clothing concepts developed in the research project are also investigated as part of the new VTT LaunchPad business incubator function (https://vttlaunchpad.fi/) under the working title HTM Solutions (https://vttlaunchpad.fi/1-3/htm-solutions/).
Participants in the Smart Clothing 2.0 project are: Suunto/Amer Sports, Savox, Inkron, Wind Controller, Reima, KONE, LähiTapiola, Image Wear, Finlayson, the Rescue Services of Kuopio region, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and VTT