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RFID safety system moving toward market tests

Thursday, 17 Mar 2011 ( #505 ) - Penticton, BC, Canada
News Story
An innovative safety system utilising active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags may get tested on actual job sites during 2011, with the idea of gaining market entry within one year.

Pro-Active Safety Systems Technologies Inc (PSST) continues in the research-and-development phase "so we have not sold any of our systems into the marketplace at this time", says Rick Shervey, PSST director. "The potential of our product is enormous, when you consider the fact that it is designed for use on virtually every type of mobile equipment" including dump trucks, skid steer loaders, overhead cranes and forklifts.

Applying the technology can pose challenges. For example, "forklifts are the hardest type of machine to make our system work on", notes Shervey, who has experience as an industrial electrician. "These machines are so varied in their work environments that they create many issues that we are now in the process of solving."

PSST utilises a highly advanced form of RFID that allows both a machine operator and people in the vicinity to receive warnings simultaneously.

"We are probably the only company in the world that possesses this technology for our usage," he contents. "We have many patents pending at this time. We don't say how we can do short range detection, but we are very good at it."

The project is perceived as being more than 80% complete.

"PSST has made research breakthroughs that have stopped all of the other companies cold," Shervey reports. "We need the government to continue supporting our efforts so we can launch the product soon."

PSST has received funding from the province, nation and shareholders.

"WorkSafeBC has been a staunch supporter of PSST since the very beginning," he notes. Three separate consecutive-year WorkSafeBC innovation-at-work grants to PSST have totaled almost CAD250,000 (USD257,000). Within British Columbia, the WorkSafeBC organisation promotes workplace health and safety, consults with and educates employers and workers, and monitors compliance with provincial occupational health and safety regulations.

PSST is applying for another WorkSafeBC grant this year. "We hope that they find our research important enough to fund us one more time," he says.

The government of Canada has given PSST three consecutive funding contributions that add up to about CAD350,000.

In the midst of difficult economic times, "we have successfully raised CAD1.25 million from selling shares", he says. "We estimate that we will need about CAN800,000 to CAN1 million more to make it to the marketplace with the product."

Shervey and another industrial electrician, John DaSilva, founded PSST five years ago. "Yes, we did build the prototype in our garage," Shervey recalls.

PSST is aware of five highly publicised fatal accidents over the past three years involving mobile equipment in the Canadian province of Alberta.

"With our prototype system, PSST can demonstrate that it could have helped to prevent at least three and perhaps four of these incidents, and when we finish the go-to-market unit, we believe that the product would have protected all five of those workers," he says. "Keep in mind that we would never claim to be able to prevent all mobile equipment accidents, but we feel that our research will result in a product that can make a huge difference in our workplace safety. Not just here in Canada, but around the world as well."

PSST conducted a system test of its technology with overhead cranes in the pot lines at Rio Tinto/Alcan Aluminum smelter in Kitimat, British Columbia.

"The smelter is an area of huge radio interference with very high magnetic fields," he says. "We tested it there because it had the worst radio environment that we could imagine."

Once the system is workplace tested, "we will have a device that can be programmed to suit almost every workplace need," he says. "System settings will depend upon the jobsite requirements as will be determined by machine use, and the safety authorities on the individual jobsites themselves."

PSST would like to collaborate with some original equipment manufacturers in order to integrate its system into their machines’ electronic control systems. "At this point we have been unable to attract their interest," he says.

"Many people believe in us, but this product is definitely not like a software product where we can sell it to people and fix the glitches later," Shervey says. "We need to have all the foreseeable glitches figured out before we can sell it."

While the PSST team views saving lives as all important, "I hope that the people in the government share our concerns at the same level," he notes. "Failure to receive government support will cause PSST to curtail our research and slow our path to market."

The research work is conducted under PSST, but certain end-market products would be marketed through three other entities under PSST. In the case of mobile equipment, it would be PSST Mobile Equipment Ltd. Each entity would own the respective product’s intellectual property.

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