More than 250,000 people in the US die each year from medical accidents, making it the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer, according to a recent Johns Hopkins survey.
Meanwhile, according to IIHS, nearly 40,000 Americans die in traffic accidents each year. While many are due to driver errors, most of these can be prevented or at least mitigated by better technology.
The pattern is similar in other industries, with both consumers and employees facing unacceptable security risks due to outdated or inadequate technology. Often the old ways of doing things are just too dangerous for modern standards.
Fortunately, a new generation of emerging technologies is reshaping the landscape. They not only improve safety in transportation and healthcare, but also in sports, construction and many other industries. Some are available for download in major app stores. Others are more specialized, but still freely available to people and companies that seek them out. Still others are still in development, but are likely to hit the market soon.
This is how they make workplaces — and the rest of the world — safer for everyone.
The sports industry is fun, entertaining, exciting – and often dangerous. Most people who have played competitive sports, even at the high school or college level, know firsthand what it’s like to get injured during practice or a game.
It’s unlikely we’ll eliminate them completely, at least not anytime soon. But new technologies make it possible to reduce the frequency and severity of more serious sports injuries and illnesses, such as concussions and heat stroke.
Smart helmets are now on the verge of commercialization. The top prize at the 2019 Yahoo Sports Technology Awards went to a rider helmet with sensors. The sensors measure and report pressure and impact force continuously. The helmet can also be equipped with communication technology to alert emergency services to possible injury to the wearer. It is likely that we will see similar technology in helmets worn by cyclists, climbers and American football players in the coming years.
Meanwhile, apps that track weather conditions on the field are currently being used to protect athletes practicing and playing outdoors. For example, the Zelus WBGT app measures the outdoor wet-bulb temperature in real-time within geographic parameters accurate enough to be relevant to specific matches. Coaches, managers and players themselves can use the results to determine an individual’s amount of heat stress and give players rest when needed.
Healthcare systems and insurers have invested billions in improved healthcare technology and processes and will undoubtedly continue to do so. But the most cost-effective improvements are happening closer to home, through easily accessible (often free) consumer technologies that can save lives.
You may already have one on your iPhone. The Apple Health Medical ID shows critical medical information, including allergies, known medical conditions, and emergency contact information, to first responders without bypassing the lock screen. In a real emergency, it can save your life.
Day-to-day health management may not be as dramatic, but it also has the potential to save (or at least extend) lives. Apps like the Heartify Heart Health Monitor track and interpret your vital signs in real time. Their output reinforces healthy habits and can help identify danger signals early, before a medical emergency arises.
The federal government has pioneered some of the most influential road safety technologies and applications in recent years. For example, the FCC recently designated LTE cellular vehicle-to-everything as the standard technology for new road safety applications. While testing continues, the potential applications are extensive and include everything from turning off traffic lights for emergency services and public transportation to informing road users of accidents and other hazards in the area.
Similarly, NHTSA’s SaferCar app delivers potentially life-saving vehicle safety information to registered users, including recall announcements. These alerts add another notification point to the patchwork of “recall web,” reducing the risk of drivers continuing to use unsafe vehicles because they missed a letter, email, or local news report.
Better technology for a safer world
A functioning, dynamic society and economy seem to come with a high human cost: widespread medical errors, an epidemic of traffic accidents, so many avoidable injuries and deaths in sports.
It’s tempting to think of this as ‘the way things are’. But there’s no reason it has to be that way. And it seems that the tide is finally turning, thanks to this new crop of security-focused applications and technologies.
These technologies cannot prevent every injury or death that would have occurred without them. Yet they will make conditions safer and more comfortable for all of us, and they do so without requiring a major overhaul of these industries’ business models.