This post is part of our new Future of Construction series which interviews the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.
The following is an interview we recently had with Max Baker, CEO of ILLUMAGEAR, Inc.
1. What’s the history of ILLUMAGEAR? Where and how did you begin?
MB: I worked in the construction industry for almost 10 years and absolutely fell in love with this industry. People all across the build schedule are what make this industry so amazing to me and I saw first-hand the need for real improvements in personal safety gear. I saw companies embracing technologies that proactively protected equipment, but there weren’t many technologies focused on proactively protecting the actual workers. I wanted to create an active safety solution for the individuals working on site. It needed to be portable and easy to incorporate into their normal routines. The hard hat is a central and personal piece of safety equipment worn by nearly every worker, so I decided to start there.
I came up with the basic idea for the Halo in 2010. It seemed intuitive: a 360-degree hard hat light that provided portable task lighting while actively illuminating the wearer (unlike retroreflective tape – which only illuminates when hit by a secondary source of light). ILLUMAGEAR was founded in Seattle, WA in 2012 with a mission to illuminate workers in high-risk environments, making them safer and more prepared.
After designing and building the prototype for the original Halo Light (our previous product), we tested it in the field, making changes as we went based on feedback. After almost two years of field tests and six stages of prototypes, we officially launched The Halo Light (March 2014). Three years later (March 2017), we launched the second iteration of the product – the cord-free Halo. We are fortunate to have a fantastic staff, honest and enthusiastic customers, and supportive investors.
2. What specific problem are you solving? How do you solve it?
MB: The Halo addresses two problems at once.
First, it acts as a portable task light to improve work efficiency and illuminate hazards that could result in slips, trips, or falls. Large jobsite task lighting takes time to move around, may cast shadows on the work area, and is often set up in a manner that results in areas of darkness between the light fixtures. Because the Halo attaches to an individual’s hard hat, it is easily transported with them, eliminates shadows, and illuminates any “dark patches.” And unlike headlamps, which are often used on jobsites, the Halo was built to survive in rough environments, illuminates out to the visual periphery, and was designed specifically for hard hats.
The second issue addressed by the Halo is that of personal safety. Anyone who has driven by a low-light jobsite knows how difficult it is to make out individual workers. The Halo illuminates over ¼ mile away in 360 degrees to help the wearer be seen by the traveling public and equipment operators within a work zone.
3. What’s the future of Construction?
Prediction #1: Safety Management will revolve around technology. Today’s jobsites are closed and isolated silos of independent systems and workflow. For the most part, workers are disconnected from each other and machinery operates independently. Corporate has insight only so far as information is relayed back to them. This is especially true when it comes to safety. The jobsite of the future will be connected and open. Workers will be connected to each other, to vehicles and machinery, and to corporate HQ. We are seeing the beginnings of the today with the gradual increase in Personal Active Safety Systems. We are at a tipping point. Over the next 10 years, connectivity, the Internet of Things, and other technologies will enable scenarios that have the potential to greatly improve worker safety. Drones will fly overhead monitoring jobsites, proactively identifying issues, and notifying personnel. Civilian automobiles, linked to a public grid, will provide info about worksites and personnel to the driver’s dashboard as they pass through the area. At the same time, workers’ gear will light up to provide drivers with clear visual cues. Beacons on vehicles and equipment will provide notifications to workers as they get too close or pass overhead — or will automatically shut down the equipment when a worker is too close. Wearable systems will notify safety management (locally or remotely) when a potentially traumatic event takes place such as a hard jolt or fall or when the worker is approaching a hazard. New eyewear will scan the jobsite and provide visual cues to potential dangers. These advanced Personal Active Safety Systems will help prevent accidents before they happen and help address issues more quickly when they do.
Prediction #2: An Increasing number of construction materials will be 3D-printed. Although we are a long way off from 3D printing replacing traditional building methods, I expect more building components will be produced via 3D printing. The next large-scale use for 3D printing in the industry may be small, 3D-printed homes for use in developing countries.
Prediction #3: Many pieces of equipment will be operated autonomously. This change parallels what is happening in the consumer market. Autonomous vehicles are already being widely tested and their wider adoption is expected to lower costs and improve safety. It will be interesting to see how/when the industry is ready to embrace autonomous equipment used in close proximity to workers on foot.
4. Why is the construction industry ripe for disruption?
MB: The construction industry is often seen as one of the slowest to innovate. Even when the industry does embrace an innovation, it’s rarely the first to do so.
I’m going to speak specifically to personal safety in construction for a minute. Consider the personal protective equipment (PPE) that a roadway worker wears. A hard hat. Class 2 or 3 reflective gear. And steel toed boots, in most cases. This gear hasn’t fundamentally changed in over 40 years. PPE may be an extreme laggard, but this example still speaks to the industry’s reluctance to change. Fortunately, an increasing number of technology-forward thinkers have grown into and or been brought into leadership roles at construction companies in the past several years. These leaders and the culture they represent are driving their companies to change.
Their willingness to embrace new technologies in an industry that has until now lagged behind means the industry is now ripe for disruption. This “Industry” by 2030 (ref: Global Construction 2030) is forecasted to have output grow by 85% to $15.5 trillion worldwide by 2030. That means the impact of this disruptive challenge will be vast.