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Communication technology behind the eight ball

Richard Tregoweth - Thursday, February 06, 2014

Almost all the ear muffs sold into the New Zealand tree care market offer hearing protection similar in concept to putting your fingers in your ears to stop the noise. Traditional 'passive' hearing protection definitely works, its simple and relatively inexpensive to deploy against the noise of chainsaws and chippers. But… there is one major downside to this method of hearing protection - workers cannot communicate effectively with each other.

New communication technology is available

New communication technologies are available for tree workers but it is hard to find a electronic solution that 'ticks all the boxes' in one piece of kit. Two-way radios offer one solution but they are not always ideal.

Arb companies demand the following from their communication systems:

  • to be able to communicate with two or more workers at any one time - say a climber in the tree, a digger operator and a man feeding the chipper
  • the headsets should offer hands free operation with a voice activated microphone
  • communication needs to be full 'duplex' - the same as a telephone rather than that of a radio (walkie-talkie)
  • there should be no wires or aerial to catch on branches and twigs
  • electronic noise cancelling ear protection for the headset and a noise cancelling microphone boom to protect against ambient noise (for example - that of the chainsaw or chipper)
  • helmet and overhead mounting systems
  • super robust construction and weatherproof to a degree

Bluetooth offers one solution (with limitations)

The closest Treetools has come to ticking 'some of the boxes' at least are the Bluetooth headsets by A-Kabel from Norway.

If two workers within 200m of each other need to communicate the ArborCom headsets by A-Kabel are hard to beat (see video below). But a major limitation of Bluetooth technology is the concept of 'pairing' - only two headsets can communicate with each other at any one time.

Consequently Bluetooth pairing limits the use of ArborCom headsets to applications with only two workers - if you introduce a third or a fourth worker you are out of luck.

SWATCOM DX might be the answer

Another exciting development in tree work communication is the SWATCOM DX system - download the brochure here.

SWATCOM DX offers full duplex, hands free, voice activated, noise cancelling communication between three people with multiple others listening in to the conversation. Or you can have a two-way hands free conversation with a third person chipping in using PTT (Press-to-Talk) while the others operate in listening mode.

Unfortunately, at this point in time the operational radio frequencies for SWATCOM DX are not approved for the New Zealand environment (but Treetools is working on it).

There is only one negative: SWATCOM DX intercom units do have a short connection point (and aerial) between the intercom itself and the headset but that might be a small price to pay for the convenience of such a system.


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