Exploring the Future of Safety: Insights from AEM 2024 Conference

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In the heavy equipment manufacturing industry, ensuring safety isn't just a responsibility; it's a commitment to progress. Recently, Yves Gagnon, our System Engineer at Kontron, had the privilege of attending the 2024 AEM Product Safety & Stewardship Conference in Nashville, TN. This annual gathering brings industry leaders, value chain partners, and subject matter experts from agriculture, mining, construction and forestry together to explore the latest advancements, challenges, and trends shaping safety in the field. 


I sat down with Yves to chat about what topics stood out, and his vision for the industry’s future. 


Q: How and why is safety being prioritized in industries utilizing heavy equipment? 


Worker safety is paramount 


Yves: “It's really a matter of preserving human lives, ensuring that every worker returns home safely to their families at the end of the day. Accidents involving people being hit by moving vehicles or getting stuck in between two objects can be quite common in industries using heavy machinery to move things around, or complete tasks more rapidly”.  


Safety protocols 


Yves: “Compliance with stringent safety regulations is not only a legal requirement to protect workers, but also essential for accountability and responsibility within organizations. Investing in safety measures prevents accidents, injuries, and expenses related to medical bills too. To avoid legal repercussions while increasing productivity for example, it is vital that businesses create a safe work environment for all involved. As a result, workers can focus on their tasks without the distraction of potential hazards, leading to smoother operations and reduced downtime”. 


Q: Speaking about productivity, was artificial intelligence (AI) highlighted at the event and how so?  


Yves: “Absolutely. One of the standout themes from the conference was the integration of AI across various sectors including agriculture, mining, construction, and forestry to perform tasks with more accuracy. But, while AI promises to revolutionize safety protocols by analyzing images and detecting potential hazards, it became evident that we're still at the beginning stages of this journey”.  


Challenges with AI 


Yves: “I got a sense that although AI holds immense potential, there are still challenges to overcome in being ready for field deployments. The presentations I attended were more about using AI within the organization and less about edge applications in the field”. 


Where Kontron comes in 


Yves: “This is what we’re trying to address with our S1901 platform, designed to leverage AI and machine learning workloads to enhance safety measures in these sectors. The rugged platform featuring high-performance CPUs and GPUs in a single unit, serves as a robust foundation for various AI applications. 

The S1901 seamlessly integrates with AI technologies and is suitable for: 


Data Processing: AI requires vast amounts of data to execute inference. Our platform excels at handling large datasets efficiently, enabling faster model training and data processing for AI applications. 


Edge AI: With its compact form factor and low power consumption (under 200 watts!) it can deploy AI models at the edge, allowing for intelligent processing and decision-making directly within and attached to autonomous vehicles or sensors. It can be installed on large autonomous vehicles supporting a high-performing Xeon CPU, GPU, and a PTP network combined. All of this using only 200 watts or less in a single IP67 enclosure, is very unique”.  


Q: What safety use cases for the S1901 did your fellow peers find most interesting at the event? 


Yves: “There were several I discussed at the event, including:


Preventing accidents: I highlighted that on a farm, the S1901 can prevent accidents in areas where people and machines work in close proximity. If a hazard is detected, collision avoidance enables the machine to come to an emergency stop until the environment is safe again. With GPU-performing video analytics plus AI, the system detects obstacles and temporarily diverts the machine’s path and returns later, resulting in more productive businesses for farmers. 


Low latency: I explained how the S1901 could be used in precision agriculture where vehicles are equipped with sensors and AI to make real-time decisions for planting and harvesting. Timely decision-making is critical for optimizing crop yield and resource utilization. The S1901 runs AI algorithms locally, enabling the autonomous farming vehicle to analyze data in real time, without sending large amounts of data to central servers. 


Fewer injuries: Consider a scenario where Kontron’s S1901 is deployed in semi-autonomous or fully autonomous mining vehicles. Sensors and AI capabilities allow them to operate continuously, enabling the human operator to control the equipment remotely. “Leader” vehicles can be followed by “follower” vehicles improving efficiency without an operator present. With the S1901’s remote connectivity and secure interfaces, operations are performed without the need for human intervention, thus reducing injuries in the field”. 


Q: Were there any additional topics revealed at the conference that you discussed? 


Yves: “One in particular, yes. That cybersecurity is just as important to heavy equipment manufacturers as the physical safety of workers. As advancements in technology continue to become more sophisticated, so do cyber security threats. Ensuring robust cybersecurity measures is no longer an option but imperative to protect not only equipment but also the individuals operating and interacting with it. As mentioned in the above real-world use cases, this is another area where Kontron’s S1901 platform shines”.  


Q: Thanks for such an insightful interview. Anything you’d like to add on what Kontron plans to do next? 


Yves: “We actually just published a new white paper entitled “Autonomous Systems Safety and Efficiency: Resilience in Extreme Environments” that AEM members would find relevant. In it, we address where the industry is going and how Kontron plans to address ongoing safety concerns in industries such as agriculture, construction, mining, and forestry that use heavy equipment in their daily activities”. 


About Yves Gagnon

Yves Gagnon is responsible for leading system engineering for Kontron’s S1901 product line based out of Montreal, Canada and serves as a solutions integration designer for safety components. With deep technical and business expertise in Transportation, and over 25 years working in various product management roles, Yves is a dedicated, passionate leader and technical thinker. Yves holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Polytechnique Montreal.

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