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Balfour Beatty considers improving staff safety with drones and gamification

The company's CIO is visiting Fujitsu in Japan soon to see how it can help

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Engineering and construction giant Balfour Beatty has revealed that it is interested in using drones to inspect motorways and possibly even build walls.

Balfour Beatty CIO Danny Reeves told Techworld at the Fujitsu Forum yesterday: “We have guys that have to work on the motorways in the central reservations. It’s inherently dangerous work and people do get hurt. If we could chuck up a drone and it could scan a whole central reservation and no one has to cross a road or park a van on a hard shoulder that would be great.”

Technologies such as automated vehicles, which are more commonly used by the military for surveillance and missile strikes, could bring speed, efficiency and safety to Balfour Beatty, said Reeves.

Reeves, who has been CIO at the £12 billion turnover company since 2010, said he has even seen a video of drones building walls. “They just fly around and build a wall,” he said. “That takes a lot of the human error and human safety issues out. Those are technologies we’re quite keen to get an understanding of."

Another area where Balfour Beatty is looking to improve safety for its staff is through the use of “body area networks”, which have the ability to monitor people’s bodily functions and stress levels.

“We have people working up pylons and we need to know those guys are able to think straight and that they’re not overly stressed,” said Reeves. “The environments we have people working in can be quite harsh so we have to monitor them and monitor the individual to be able to predict when they may become less effective or even potentially dangerous to themselves and others.”

The firm is also looking at improving safety through gamification. When a Balfour Beatty employees arrives at a site in the field they are meant to carry out a number of safety checks before setting to work.

“Compliance and audit of your environment is important but bits of paper and process is dull as hell,” said Reeves.

The CIO said that a game, which gives staff points for following steps, identifying areas of risk and producing ways of reducing or removing that risk, would encourage employees to comply.

Reeves said he will be visiting Fujitsu in Japan this month to discuss some of these "pie in the sky" ideas. 

Earlier this year, Balfour Beatty struck a £43 million deal with Fujitsu in a bit to rationalise its sprawling IT estate. The deal involves Balfour Beatty halving its 1,500 physical servers and removing thousands of applications.

“We’re starting to get the core stuff under control and that’s freeing us up to focus on other things,” said Reeves.

“This relationship with Fujitsu is a huge opportunity for us to get our heads out of the day-to-day desktop, laptop, and servers and start to challenge our industry and our customers about what technology can do for us.We’ll go through a process over the next year or so to funnel it down to those things that are feasible, realistic and what we can do now, medium term and long term."

“I’m a bit of a grumpy old git to some degree and I don’t want to be limited by that,” said Reeves.


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