Using humans as a sensor allows a more exact mapping of the environment, allowing
managers to go from a rough Google Maps snapshot to a detailed Google Street View look
at their operation. And this then promotes action. If a new machine generates more noise
than anticipated, up the hearing protection. Maybe the TVOC sensor alerts to higher levels
spilling out of the paint room, which means it might be time to investigate the ventilation. If
an area’s temperature spikes, it might be time to relieve the crew for a water break. And if
you leave the device in your car in the summer heat, it will make your team think you’re on
the face of the sun, as Glynn recently found out.
“We’ve come a long way from 100 years ago when factories were exploding due to starch
dust, but there’s more we can do,” says Glynn, a serial software entrepreneur who previously
started and sold a mobile ERP company. “It feels predestined that a hundred years later I
would get to work on a product that was designed to prevent these kinds of things.”
It’s as much industrial pedigree as fate for Glynn, whose father—a former machinist and
longtime safety manager—taught him the value of a safe, healthy worker to the overall
company. Glynn got the idea for the wearable about five years ago after talking with his
dad about the OSHA auditing process for lost hearing. Being around industrial safety for a
better part of his life also informed Glynn on industrial rules such as no wrist or neck-worn
accessories, which could snag on equipment. The armband is designed to tear away from
the wearer if caught on something.
Armed with this familial knowledge, combined with this recent work running the Advanced Manufacturing Podcast where he visited several factories and workers, Glynn
knew environmental safety was ripe for disruption. And this solution would be a win-win
for workers and plants.
“My Safety Sense is Tingling”
“Fatigue is the leading cause of accidents and the environment is the leading contributor
for fatigue,” Glynn says.
Logically, if you want to address accidents, which occur 500 times a minute around the
world, you attack the environment. Glynn and fellow co-founder and CTO Mark Frederick,
who does the heavy lifting on the hardware side, made sure the MākuSafe wearable absorbs just about every imaginable piece of environmental data to keep workers safe and
productive. It has an accelerometer to detect slips and falls, a noise dosimeter to pick
up auditory danger, visible and infrared light sensor to ensure work zones are properly
illuminated, and temperature and humidity sensors to verify work zones are safe and
dry. The pager-sized device also tracks CO2 and total volatile organic compounds (TVOC)
levels, the latter of which could cause immediate or long-term respiratory issues. If that
weren’t enough, Glynn says the patents leave room for several other sensors in the future.
“If a guy trips on crack on the floor, our device picks that up and records it on their behalf,”
Glynn says. The machine learning within the cloud-based backend, MākuSmart software,
An early pilot validated this real-time system. Glynn recalls the device recorded the
slip and the safety manager verified that is what happened and investigated why. A mat
between two machines was too short, leaving a gap that clearly created a tripping hazard.
A new mat was quickly put in place to eliminate the danger.
Ordinarily, a wet spot on the floor or crack in the concrete would be overlooked unless
it resulted in a serious injury. That takes time and time is money.
“Employees don’t want to stop their work and spend 15 minutes filling out paperwork
for an accident that didn’t even happen, says Glynn, who independently verified OSHA’s
findings that 80-90% of near-misses go unreported. “They have quotas to meet.”
Not every near-miss can be recorded by the suite of sensors, but a human’s senses
would, such as if a pallet full of material were to fall from a high shelf near a person. This
could easily result in loss of life, but the loss of productivity can be more pressing if your
safety culture takes a backseat to the bottom line.
MākuSafe prepared for this eventuality with a voice recorder that can log the incident with
the push of a button. All the necessary data, from who reported it to all the environmental
context, gets sent with the voice memo, which is translated to text and put in the incident
report. This costs 15 seconds of worker time and is invaluable in finding and catching
potential hazards to the works. The relays have a range of about 100 m, and if the worker
is beyond that, or working in an enclosed space such as a freezer, the data is stored on
the device and sent when within range.
This not only keeps workers from missing time, and the company losing productivity,
but helps foster a healthier safety culture. It’s a technological take on a good catch
program, a more positive look at near-misses as opportunities to continuously improve.
“Employees can feel very good about taking some measure of action to potentially prevent a bad thing from happening,” concludes Douros. “It’s an opportunity for employees to
see the potential for an injury before one happens and do something to address it. There
is usually no stigma attached to this program since it isn’t blame-based.”
Forecasting Disaster to Prevent It
The value of a wearable safety device, whether it’s the MākuSafe that detects ambient data,
or the ear-worn Bodytrak device, which focuses more on physiological data analytics (and
also includes fall detection), is that they convert traditional lagging indicators, which tell you
how something got screwed up, into leading indicators, which help avoid the screwup entirely.
Glynn, a native of Iowa, likens it to the evolution of how the National Weather Service has
evolved to warn people about tornados.
“When I was a kid, the siren would go off and you’d look out the window and there’d be a
tornado right there and you have 10 seconds to get down the basement,” he recalls. Because
of new satellite and radar technology, things are vastly different now. Glynn notes that this
summer he received a tornado warning days ahead of the expected touchdown.
Glynn says it’s just as crucial for plant management to predict which way the wind will
blow within their factories.
“Knowing the environmental conditions and how they change, when they change, and
what the impact is on the worker gets us to a place where we can forecast risk and identify
things well before they present a risk to the worker,” he says.
He projects that as the technology evolves, the alerts sent from the device to the MākuSmart
system will initiate automated responses, such as starting the air system up when humidity
reaches a certain level that could create condensation and a slippery floor.
Preventing falls is the obvious use, and a reason EMC Insurance Companies, also based
in Des Moines, is running a pilot with MākuSafe, which identifies itself as insurtech
“The world’s changing for our agents and policyholders,” says Bryon Snethen, EMC
VP of risk improvement. “We want to provide them value beyond insurance; wearable
The wearable is charged at the kiosk, which doubles as the edge device which relays data to
the cloud-based MākuSmart platform.