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February 13, 2024

On AI ergonomics and workplace safety: Interviewing TuMeke co-founder Zach Noland

Guided by a vision of tech innovation, TuMeke anticipates profound impacts, notably in the realm of workplace safety

TuMeke, spearheaded by co-founder Zach Noland, is revolutionizing workplace safety in manufacturing. Their computer vision platform, driven by AI, swiftly identifies injury risks, enabling rapid intervention through task redesign or targeted retraining. Recent funding of $10 million underscores industry confidence in TuMeke's transformative potential. In an exclusive interview, Noland reveals the company's genesis, the profound impact of their technology, and the future trajectory. Join us as we explore how TuMeke is reshaping manufacturing safety, promising a future where hazards are swiftly identified and mitigated, thanks to the power of AI.

Zach Noland, Riley Noland, Diwakar Ganesan

Neil: How does the company's integration of AI and ergonomics specifically enhance workplace safety?

Zach: TuMeke is a computer vision platform that automatically assesses injury risk in manufacturing facilities. With TuMeke’s AI-powered ergonomics software, safety teams can identify injury risks rapidly, allowing either for the job to be redesigned or for the worker to be retrained.

Our suite of products helps companies assess ergonomic risk twelve times faster than traditional techniques, driving forward its mission of eliminating workplace musculoskeletal injury as the company continues to build the next-generation ergonomic risk assessment platform.

Neil: What are the most significant impacts you've seen or anticipate seeing?

Zach: The most significant impacts we anticipate from the implementation of technology, AI, and automation in the global smart manufacturing market include increased efficiency in assessing and preventing workplace musculoskeletal injuries. With a safer working environment, employee well-being can be significantly improved which could lead to improved safety and morale, decreased worker compensation costs, and productivity increases.

Workplace musculoskeletal injuries are commonplace across industries, yet traditional ergonomic risk assessment processes are manual, laborious, and inefficient. An industry ripe for digital transformation, the global smart manufacturing market is expected to grow from USD 108.9B in 2023 to USD 241.0B, with AI and automation poised to enable new advancements.

Worker safety is non-negotiable and our technology addresses immediate ergonomics concerns and assists in the development of long-term safety strategies, establishing employee well-being as a fundamental aspect of daily operations.

Neil: With the recent infusion of $10 million in funding, what are your key priorities for investment?

Zach: With our Series A closing, we hope to double down on the advantages we’ve built up and continue to build AI the right way for workers and manufacturers alike. The funding will allow us to expand operations, and grow and scale our team of engineers, ergonomists, and academics.

Neil: Can you elaborate on how your advanced computer vision technology works in real-time to ensure safety without disrupting production? What challenges did you overcome in developing this technology?

Zach: Our advanced computer vision technology at TuMeke operates in real-time to ensure safety in the workplace without disrupting production. It employs AI that combines state-of-the-art computer vision and ergonomics. These are designed to monitor workers’ movements and subsequently analyze any movements that could pose a potential risk of leading to musculoskeletal injuries. The AI system intelligently detects risky movements and immediately surfaces recommendations on how to reduce the likelihood of an injury occurrence to enhance employee safety.

The process is as simple as safety staff taking a video using their smartphones. Our advanced computer vision algorithm interprets this video data in real-time, subsequently analyzing it for potential risk, and offers strategies to minimize the identified risk all within a few minutes. This ensures that the risk assessment process is completed efficiently, and most importantly, without having to pause production or cause interruptions.

While developing this technology, we faced a few challenges. Computer vision algorithms generally require massive volumes of data to train for accurate identification and prediction. To tackle this, we focused on acquiring and creating a broad and varied dataset that mirrors actual worker movement scenarios, thereby ensuring accurate detection and prevention recommendations.

Additionally, creating an algorithm that could provide results so quickly without sacrificing accuracy was a substantial hurdle. Through a robust, iterative process of designing and testing, we refined our technology to deliver quick results while maintaining a high degree of precision. We also partnered closely with internal and external ergonomics experts to validate the results against the traditional human ergonomic risk assessment process.

Through addressing these challenges, we've created a reliable system capable of not just preventing workplace injuries, but also enhancing productivity by ensuring minimal disruption to work processes.

Neil: What metrics or indicators do you use to measure the effectiveness of your AI-ergonomic solutions in improving workplace safety?

Zach: The metrics or indicators we use to measure the effectiveness of our AI-ergonomics solutions in improving workplace safety include our rapid growth and loyal customer base. We assess our success by measuring the rate of industrial injuries pre and post-implementation of our solutions. The data we've collected so far indicates a reduction in industrial injuries by more than 60%, showcasing the effectiveness of our AI-ergonomics solutions.

Neil: How do you envision the future of workplace safety with the integration of AI and ergonomics?

Zach: The impact of AI on industries employing manual labor is at a crossroads. We’ve intentionally adopted a product development philosophy centered around keeping the human-in-the-loop, rather than a process that autonomously makes decisions and collects data with no oversight. To ensure the future of workplace safety with the integration of AI and ergonomics remains ethically practiced, we have implemented two forms of precautions:

Form factor - Many safety companies plug into closed-circuit cameras or sell wearables that must be worn throughout the day. In contrast, our technology is delivered via a phone app and web suite. With our primary form factor of mobile phones, our platform is often used by safety specialists doing routine training/inspections on jobs; a process that ensures a human has to be “in-the-loop”, at the very least to collect the information and explain results to the employee.

Employee consent - In addition to the adherence to industry standards of asking employees' consent to be assessed and maintaining records of their responses, we don’t offer any way to connect individual assessments back to employees. Also, our assessment videos are limited in length and we blur the face of employees so they can’t be used for long-term surveillance.

Neil: What other innovations are on the horizon for the company?

Zach: We are planning to introduce new features that will boost the abilities and safety measures of EHS (Environmental Health and Safety) teams. Other potential innovations involve advanced technologies and processes that ensure the health and safety of workers, increase productivity, reduce environmental impact, and streamline overall operations.

Gresheen Libby , Content writer at TechNews180
Gresheen Libby
Content writer at TechNews180
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