Intuitive farm safety device, SoleMate steps up for Aussie farmers
By its nature, agriculture often requires people to work alone in remote areas, sometimes performing tasks where the risk of injury is high. SoleMate is an innovative piece of technology that could reduce the risk of serious consequences from injuries to solo workers in remote locations. It could potentially save lives.
Matthew Edwards, a mechatronics engineer with SoleMate developer Nakatomi, said the device uses sensors to detect when the wearer is injured or there has been an ‘injury event’.
Nakatomi is a Sydney-based team of strategic thinkers, engineers and artists that imagine, design and build new product experiences to drive growth opportunities. Nakatomi specialises in creative development, strategic thinking, extended reality development and engineering product design.
“The device is designed to recognise when something has happened,” said Matthew. “Initially, it sends a message to the wearer. If they don’t respond within a set time, it then alerts an emergency contact who can then take action.”
In essence, SoleMate is a small, printed circuit-board that fits into a shoe insole.
“It fits comfortably and low profile into most shoes, but there is more to be done with working on making it more comfortable,” explained Matthew. “Currently the prototype is not fully waterproof but it would be easy to enclose it in a waterproof case.”
SoleMate was initially targeted specifically for the agriculture industry, said Matthew where the statistics on workplace injury and death are cause for concern. MLA has already seen the value in the device and has invested with Nakatomi to further develop it as a joint project. The IP in SoleMate is shared between Nakatomi and MLA.
“The device is designed to recognise when something has happened. Initially, it sends a message to the wearer. If they don’t respond within a set time, it then alerts an emergency contact who can then take action.”
Innovative tech to help make farming safer
In Australia, agriculture typically accounts for more than one in five workplace deaths. When working alone, limited cellular network coverage and long response times can limit injured workers' survival chances. Current remote worker tracking systems require significant user interaction and are easy to forget or inappropriate to wear in some situations, like a watch or pendant. There are at least 124,000 lone workers in Australia’s agriculture sector, and over 50 million lone workers across the United States, Canada, and Europe.
“SoleMate uses long range communications so it will work in areas where cell phone reception is not good,” he said.
“There are a lot of devices out there that can detect falls, but SoleMate can identify whether someone is standing up or not, their heart rate and temperature – the sensors in the device are evolving over time. We try to capture as much information about the wearer as we can and correlate that to estimating whether they’re safe or not. If they’re estimated not to be safe, they’re sent an alert to ask if they’re okay. If they, don’t respond, an emergency contact is notified.”
With no user-interaction required, the device has potential application in the aged care, disability and healthcare sectors for both in-home and facility-based clients, patients, staff and researchers.
“It is really unique in terms of its differentiators to other devices,” said Matthew. “It’s unique in the way it allows long range communication emergency alerts. But also requires low cognitive capacity to activate. It’s a set and forget device. Once you set it, you don’t need to do anything about it.”
Throughout the early testing stage, users observed the need for greater detection capabilities to identify whether users were in fact injured or just resting. The algorithm for sensing movement has been developed further, Matthew noted, since receiving this feedback.
Partners get ready to drive next phase of development
SoleMate is now at a stage where Nakatomi and MLA are ready to take the prototype to the next phase of development – and are seeking investment from interested partners.
Companies with expertise in developing medical technology and wearable devices are desirable partners. Opportunities exist for investors and manufacturers interested in supporting development, investors interested in partnering for distribution of the device in Australia and internationally, as well as researchers interested in utilising health and activity data for research purposes.
“It is classified as a medical device,” said Matthew. “That means you need capabilities to manufacture products under certain regulations. It needs to comply to medical regulations, so we’re looking for people who have experience in medical tech and wearable tech.
“We’re confident on the side of how it works. It’s at the point where we’re looking to scope things out for manufacture, to take it from here to be a commercial product.”
“We’re also looking to do more market testing to validate what people would think of using the device as it is now. We’re looking to find some people in ag or neighbouring industries – personal welfare, transport – who would like to trial it. SoleMate is useful in a few different areas and we’re keen to put the word out and do some market research.”
Development is still flexible in terms of what kind of features the device could include, offering adaptability in price point.
SoleMate may also be attractive to commercial partners seeking exclusive value-add through the device, or to companies looking to enhance their WH&S capacity.