Technology Helps Workers Hear Through the Noise

This device lets workers in noisy and windy environments hear through their bones without removing ear protection.

Source: Chevron

For workers in refineries, offshore platforms, and other noisy environments, donning personal protective equipment such as hard hats and ear plugs is routine. But this protection can impede an essential safety tool: the ability to communicate.

To address this challenge, Chevron is teaming up with Mobilus Labs to deploy its mobiWAN technology, a wearable device that allows workers in noisy and windy environments to “hear” through their bones and talk with each other.

Anyone who has tried to have a phone conversation while outside in the wind knows just how hard it can be to hear. Likewise, workers who use walkie-talkies, headphones, or earbuds in windy environments or amid the thrum of machinery can have a hard time hearing important communication. Miscommunication can lead to accidents and injuries.

“Most of the time, field workers have to run back inside or find other communication alternatives,” said Miranda Palmisano of the Chevron Technical Center, whose team helped test the technology. “So enabling clear, two-way communication at all times is huge for everybody in high-noise environments.”

The mobiWAN device attaches to the back of a hard hat and rests against a worker’s head. The device connects wirelessly to an app on a phone or tablet, and, when the worker takes a call, the sound travels through the mobiWAN device into the bones in the worker’s head. The sound then goes to the worker’s inner ear, similar to hearing, but without ears.

The device also has coordinating communication software. When the worker speaks, the sound waves travel through the jaw and skull to mobiWAN’s microphone and on to the person or group at the other end of the line.

Not having extra equipment for their ears or in their hands means workers can keep their ear protection on and still communicate safely and clearly in noisy spaces.

Some tweaks were necessary to tailor the technology to Chevron’s needs. The company tested it at one of its US facilities and offered feedback to Mobilus, such as requesting battery life that matches workers’ shift length and improved audio quality.

“The ability to use the setting and get feedback from us so they can make tweaks that improve the process, that’s where the relationship with us adds significant value,” said Esteban Montero, who helps scout out new technologies for Chevron.

Mobilus certified the technology for use in hazardous areas to help Chevron broadly deploy mobiWAN. Chevron said it plans to use the device at facilities such as chemical plants, refineries, terminals, and offshore platforms.

“Chevron’s highest priority is the personal safety of our workforce,” said Lillian Moy, a technology deployment and adoption manager for Chevron. “Mobilus’ invention is a tool that can help our workers communicate safely without compromising hearing protection.”