Wearable technology helps to improve working conditions in agriculture

Wearable technology helps to improve working conditions in agriculture

The AgWearCare project resorts to wearables to collect and digitalize data, supporting agricultural tasks and preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The analysis of the data collected will allow the project's team to know which tasks (when repeated excessively) influence the health of the worker and understand which parcels of land show greater productivity. After the project, the researchers submitted a patent.

Most agricultural activities are still physically demanding. The International Labour Organization lists "unnatural body position or prolonged static postures and repetitive work" as some of the most frequent hazards in agriculture and it´s safe to say that the risk of accidents is increased by fatigue and difficult terrain. And although technology is increasingly present on farms, and the industry is investing in digitalization, certain types of tasks can only be performed manually.

But what if technology could help protect the farmers from highly demanding tasks? What if farmers could use such data (already collected during regular tasks) to analyze their crops? The Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (INESC TEC) developed a solution capable of obtaining metrics that allow analyzing the health and well-being of workers through the monitoring of tasks and work intensity, and make use of such metrics to give geolocated insights of crop status.

The AgWearCare project focused on "well-being" and "productivity" as the two key dimensions in the process of developing a farmers' monitoring system to support their occupational health, as well as the management of crops and human resources. How? By collecting data from INESC TEC's proprietary sensors. The tests were carried out with workers dedicated to three types of crops: vineyards, olive trees and kiwifruit.

Farmers went to the fields using wearables that collected data – which was later analyzed and used to support the decision-making processes. Now, the data processing is integrated into the system and metrics are calculated in near real-time.

By measuring the workers' geolocated metrics, we can understand which areas of the field require greater or lesser efforts from the worker – which, in itself, may also indicate a greater or lesser density of any given crop."

Duarte Dias, INESC TEC researcher

This new concept – and the data collected – allowed researchers to submit a patent to determine the state of the crop by analyzing the farmers' activity. But can this analysis have immediate consequences in situ? The answer is yes – while also playing a key role in the workers' daily tasks.

"One of the most practical examples is the number of movements that a person performs during certain activities, e.g., pruning or picking the fruit; these indicate the worker's effort and the amount of pruning and picking required for a certain area", explained the researcher.

From this monitoring, it is possible to create strategies to reduce the risk of muscle-related issues and potential injuries, and to collect information about the state of the crop without the introduction of technology that requires specialized handling (ground robots or drones).

AgWearCare can also support agricultural managers, so they can further understand the individual work of their employees. The project was led by the company Wise Connect SA, with the collaboration of the Instituto Superior de Agronomia and APPITAD – Association of Producers in Integrated Protection of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro.

"The leading company of the project (Wise Connect S.A.) was quite interested in this project, and it aims to promote the development of the system – as an add-on for their commercial platform called WiseCrop", mentioned Duarte Dias. Other plans include carrying out pilot tests with INESC TEC to further validate the technology in the field.

AgWearCare – Wearables for Monitoring Working Conditions in Agroforestry was funded by the Portugal2020 program.


INESC Brussels HUB

Posted in: Device / Technology News | Healthcare News

Tags: Agriculture, Fatigue, Food, Fruit, Muscle, Musculoskeletal, Occupational Health, Technology

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