Health IT

Body sensors could improve future soldiers’ performance

Soldiers of the future could wear body sensors that monitor their physiological state, identify risk factors and ultimately improve their performance, researchers working with the Army say.

Those wearable sensors could monitor heart rate and blood pressure, hydration levels and cognitive reaction times, as well as detect external chemical or biological threats, researchers said during a panel discussion at the Army’s Medical Hot Topics Forum in Washington, D.C., according to an Army report.

With troop levels shrinking and the Army focusing on the squad as a decisive force, soldiers will need to perform like elite athletes, said Lt. Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr., commander of the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, who led the discussion. Members of the panel, who represented several academic research laboratories as well as the Army, talked about the importance of monitoring physical and psychological stressors in order to avoid injury and optimize performance.

A focus was on managing the “mind-body system.” Among the topics the researchers discussed were the effects of cognitive resilience training, or Mind Fitness Training, on performance; the importance of monitoring biomolecular data and psychological stressors; and about how monitoring can help prevent costly muskuloskeletal injuries.

The Army is working on several performance-enhancing technologies, as well as working with Baylor University to screen 1,750 soldiers for injury risks. That study could work the way some of the future sensors will, feeding soldiers’ data into an algorithm that determines the risk of musculoskeletal injury. If a soldier is at risk, an Army physical therapist would prescribe corrective steps.

Caravalho suggested 2025 as a date by which soldiers could be using the kind of body sensors researchers talked about, but some health-monitoring sensors already exist, if in somewhat more rudimentary form. The Defense Department’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology, for example, offers a mobile app called BioZen that can provide sophisticated biofeedback on heart rate, respiratory rate, skin temperature and other factors, though it requires the user to buy compatible medical sensors separately.

Harvard University researchers, working with a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant, also are building biosensors into soft-fabric, lightweight exoskeleton that could be work under clothing and would assist muscle movement in the legs, reducing fatigue and the risk of injury.

And, of course, there are plenty of commercial wearable sensors aimed at health and fitness, monitoring everything from heart rate to body movements. Considering how some technologies—particularly mobile ones—move from the private to the public sector, some of those sensors could find their way into military environments.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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