Virginia Tech Team Solving Construction Problem

Blacksburg, VA - Researchers at Virginia Tech are making a breakthrough in the construction world, and there's interest in this one from around the country.

They are working on a way to install carbon monoxide detectors in construction helmets that they say will save lives.

Virginia Tech doctoral student Jason Forsyth is part of a team that has been working to solve a common problem on construction sites: Carbon Monoxide.

"There's a lot of gasoline and diesel powered tools and the fumes they emit contain carbon monoxide," said Forsyth.

So Forsyth has dedicated his post undergraduate studies to solving the issue.

"Workers know about the danger and sometimes they try to ventilate the areas they are working. But there have been cases where people have known the danger, ventilated the areas and then it's not sufficient and they are still overcome," said Forsyth.

Dr. Tom Martin oversees the Electronic Textiles Lab where the helmet and other important work is developed.

"There's a big thrust there to make devices that look and feel like everyday devices but they have some intelligence to them and this is a perfect example of that," said Martin.

And if you think it is as simple as putting a sensor in a construction helmet, think again. The prototype was proven to work using a sensor that measures gas in the blood. That information would be sent to a wireless receiver, which then puts the data out.

While still in a crude form, proving the theory could work was important.

Now researchers have to fine tune issues that may not be obvious to everyone -- like ensuring the helmet sensor can withstand heavy vibrations or even penetrate the head of a bandana-wearing worker.

"Do these people want to wear a helmet? Will the sensor still work? So there is more "human factor" studies that need to be done. But in general, we believe the technology is robust enough for the application," said Forsyth.

The sensor they use is the standard fingertip sensor many of us have seen in hospitals, but since a construction worker's hands are their bread and butter, the helmet was the next logical step.

Forsyth is just back from Wisconsin where a paper he wrote, outlining the project, took home top honors at the IEEE Automation and Science Engineering Conference.