Sep 22, 2020
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
When you think of wearables, the first image that might come to mind is your average smart watch. But wearable technology and its potential uses are rapidly leading to all sorts of innovative solutions.
One company that is taking wearables to the next level is Mexico-based MoTeBo, who have developed a line of smart garments. Most notably, their Smart Coveralls, powered by the Qualcomm MDM9206 LTE modem, can be worn by workers in a wide range of industries including oil and gas, energy, automotive, metallurgy, mining, and construction. In addition to providing protection, the coveralls also incorporate digital technology to capture and transmit a wealth of information about the wearer and their environment.
We recently had a chance to speak with Paulino Vacas Jacques of MoTeBo, to learn how they've transformed the humble coverall into smart, wearable technology.
From protective garment to a high-tech wearable
Paulino summarizes the company's Smart Coverall as "a comprehensive wearable technology solution for sensing, geolocation, and actuation that can provide workers and their employers with a range of data and functionality to increase safety, efficiency, and productivity."
Key features of the garment include a textile-ready communications module, satellite geolocation capabilities, single-battery operation, and compatibility with mobile devices. Along with connections to a range of sensors, the garment can collect real-time data about the wearer, their location, and the environment. To tie it all together, the Smart Coverall solution also incorporates a web-based platform, that supports data generation and facilitates analytics for business predictions, as well as decision making.
Paulino says there are three key categories of technologies that underpin the Smart Coverall solution:
- Textile Design: the textile itself houses the electronic technology of the Smart Coverall. For specific customer needs, MoTeBo can incorporate textile circuitry with photonics, electronics, and thermal functionality into the fabric of the Smart Coverall. The use of textile circuitry can support a wide range of functionality such as detecting a torn coverall in the workplace.
- Electronics: the electronics of the Smart Coverall supports geolocation, short and long range communications, sensing, and even actuation. Depending on a client's needs, the Smart Coverall technology can be customized to deliver the functionality required for different use cases.
- Software: the software layer brings the power of data into the hands of the wearer. For example, the Movement Sensing Smart Coverall can be employed in a high-risk construction site to remotely guard the wearer against unexpected dangers.
Prior to working on the Smart Coverall technology, MoTeBo had developed various wearables, many of which employed short-range communication technologies (e.g., Zigbee, BLE, etc.).
The idea of the Smart Coverall materialized when MoTeBo was designing communications protocols for direct-cloud connectivity. It was during this time that MoTeBo saw a need to provide such connectivity in wearables for employees performing high-risks jobs. MoTeBo then conducted further use case analysis for the Smart Coverall, which validated that such a product could solve a number of problems across a variety of industries. For example, the product can provide real-time information about end-user movements when performing high-risk activities, such as working on construction sites. The Smart Coverall can also implement M2M communications in order to minimize work-related hazards.
Key challenges and learnings
Throughout the process of bringing their Smart Coveralls to commercialization, MoTeBo had to overcome some unique challenges. But also gained some valuable learnings.
MoTeBo's Smart Coveralls have attracted prospects from around the world. However, despite advances of telecommunications worldwide, the adoption of IoT technologies and the deployment of communications networks for different types of devices is still in its infancy, especially within developing countries.
To offer a truly global solution, the design of the technology had to implement fallback communications strategies. In various countries, MoTeBo had to resort to legacy cellular networks in order to bring their technology to life. Thus a key learning was to design solutions where novel cellular technologies (e.g., 5G, LTE-M, NB-IoT, etc.) may replace the legacy ones as a country's infrastructure advances.
Another learning was the importance of interacting with telecom companies, especially in regards to handover procedures in cellular networks (e.g., LTE-M) for different types of devices. In working with North American telcos, MoTeBo learned that cellular infrastructure prioritizes cellular phones over other types of devices during handover. Thus, a key learning is that the fine tuning of IoT technology requires comprehensive knowledge of a given country's cellular infrastructure.
MoTeBo says the MDM9206 has proven to be a key component as it provides low-power, direct connectivity to MoTeBo's cloud infrastructure. The processor also enables modern connectivity schemes to be utilized, while maintaining compatibility with widely adopted legacy technologies.
Development of the Smart Coverall lineup was further facilitated through close collaboration between MoTeBo and specialists from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. in the U.S. and Latin America (LATAM), as well as with AT&T in Mexico. These collaborations have served to implement low-power functionality, and to fine tune the technology and infrastructure necessary to employ novel cellular technologies, specifically LTE-M and NB-IoT and robust strategies for cellular handover procedures in several countries.
Today's predictions for tomorrow's wearables
MoTeBo sees a bright future for wearables and IoT, citing projections for the wearable technology market to reach USD $51.60 billion by 2022, and IoT to grow to USD $661.74 billion by 2021.
Going forward, Paulino says health and personal care is another burgeoning opportunity because the boundary between clinical and consumer health IT technologies is becoming increasingly blurred, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, smart textiles are being adopted more frequently in health care as they can implement a variety of sensing capacities to improve the monitoring and recovery of patients. For instance, patients with chronic conditions can benefit from sensing technologies for temperature, respiratory, and cardiac frequencies, with the former two being critical parameters for COVID-19 patients. Other segments that will most likely adopt these technologies include addiction and mental healthcare facilities, since smart textiles can provide key information about these end users.
Here at QTI we're proud to see how our platforms are powering next-generation wearables today. Developers interested in learning more about the MDM9206 should check out the Qualcomm LTE for IoT SDK, as well as our past blog: Cellular IoT — MDM9206 Modem and New LTE for IoT SDK.
Also be sure to check out Fundamentals of Wireless Signals and Cellular Networks for a refresher on how cellular networks work, and Tips to Power Through Sensor Development Challenges for information on incorporating sensors into your solutions.