You don't need to be an expert in occupational safety to know that worker fatigue is one of the leading causes of workplace accidents - this particularly applies to people who operate heavy machinery or drive for a living. While it would be great if all employees simply took a break when fatigue started setting in, it can sometimes be difficult for people to tell just how tired they really are. That, or they decide that they just want to push through and get the job done, drowsiness be damned. A relatively new invention from Australia's EdanSafe, however, takes the guesswork out of the picture. It's called the SmartCap, and it measures employee fatigue in real time by monitoring its wearer's brain waves.

The washable cap incorporates waterproof sensors in its lining, which are able to measure electrical activity originating in the brain, at the scalp level. No preparation of the scalp is necessary.

Once every second, a custom algorithm analyzes the data, to determine the wearer's level of alertness. This information is transmitted by Bluetooth to a linked device such as a smartphone or the dedicated SmartCap touchscreen monitor, where the user will be able to see a visual display of their fatigue level - if that level drops to dangerous levels, audible and visual alarms will be activated. The sensors are able to tell when the cap isn't being worn, so simply taking it off to hide one's fatigue isn't an option.

Along with the sensors, each cap features a removable card-like module that contains the core electronics. This attaches to the underside of the brim when the cap is being worn, but can be docked in a base unit (or in the touchscreen display) for recharging and testing when "off duty."

The system can be used in an offline stand-alone format, or it can be linked into the SmartCap Fatigue Manager Server. Using that technology, supervisors can monitor the output of multiple caps in real time, or look back over an employee's past shift to check what fatigue levels they experienced.

Initially developed for use in the mining industry, the SmartCap is presently still being field tested by industrial partners, but should reportedly be available for sale early this year. A headband version is also in production, and a hard hat is in development.