Computerized sleeves may soon allow manufacturing bosses to monitor and record workers’ moves and mine them for efficiency data.

The sleeves are just prototypes for now, but the devices are intended to replace stopwatch-wielding time lords hovering around employees to assess their efficiency.

Motion-capture systems (such as those used to animate computer-generated movie characters) might allow Big Brother monitoring on par with the sleeves, but such systems require special computing, expensive video cameras and other impractical elements. So a pair of wearable, breathable electronic sleeves may become the ultimate micromanaging tool.

“The present stopwatch method only allows a process organizer to time five individuals simultaneously, depending on the situation,” said research manager Martin Woitag of the Fraunhofer Institute in a press release. “Our solution makes it possible to record time simultaneously, even at several workplaces, without requiring additional labor.”

Each sleeve has a matchbox-sized sensor in the hand, forearm and upper arm. As an industrial worker goes through the motions of assembling something like a circuit board, the sensors record body-part acceleration, angular velocities and positions, and send them to a computer. Special software then combines the data to assess common movements such as reaching forward and backward, grasping objects and releasing them.

By logging data over several days, the thinking goes, employees will forget they’re wearing Big Brother on their arms and provide a truer reading on their work efficiency.

“The stress factor for employees is extremely high and they might not execute their jobs at their usual speed. For companies, this requires quite a lot of work from staff and thus incurs high costs,” according to the press release.

Although companies may soon have a new tool to never cut their employees some slack, the sleeves’ data could, on the bright side, be used to assess and improve workplace ergonomics.

Image: Lintje GbR/Fraunhofer Institute