Army develops biometric sensors, future tech for soldiers

The U.S. Army has set up a special high-tech laboratory aimed at identifying and integrating gear, equipment and weapons to reduce the current weight burden placed on soldiers and give them more opportunities to successfully execute missions, service officials said.

A main impetus for the effort, called Warrior Integration Site (WinSite), is based on the goal of reducing the weight carried by today’s Army infantry fighters from more than 120-pounds, down to at least 72-pounds, service officials said. In fact, a soldier’s current so-called “marching load” can reach as much as 132-pounds, Army experts said.

The Army plans to integrate biometric sensors into soldier uniforms as part of a broader laboratory effort designed to identify and implement emerging technologies for soldiers in combat.  

Biometric sensors will allow for rapid identification of health and body conditions, such as heart rate, breathing or blood pressure. Rapid access to this information could help soldiers survive otherwise lethal enemy attacks.

Lighter weight protective body armor and undergarments, newer uniform fabrics, wearable computers and integrated sensors powered by emerging battery technologies are also part of the Army’s scientific initiative that is aimed at shaping and sustaining the soldier of the future.

Citing batteries, power demands, ammunition, gear interface, body armor, boots, weapons and water, Army developers explained that soldiers are heavily burdened by the amount they have to carry for extended missions.

The WinSite lab is not only looking to decrease the combat load carried by soldiers into battle but also to identify and integrate the best emerging technologies. The evaluation processes in the makeshift laboratory involves the use of computer graphic models, 3-D laser scanners, 3-D printing and mannequins.

The 3-D printer allows for rapid prototyping of new systems and equipment so the team can see how they impact the overall soldier system.  The mannequins are then outfitted with helmets, body armor, radios, water, M-4 rifles, helmets, uniforms, night vision, batteries and other gear as part of an assessment of what integrates best for the soldier overall.

The WinSite effort is more near-term than long-term developmental efforts such as the ongoing work to develop a soldier “Iron Man” suit or exoskeleton.

Lighter-weight fabrics for uniforms, combined with composite body armor materials, are key elements of how the Army hopes to reach a goal of enabling soldiers to fight with all necessary gear weighing a fraction of the current equipment.

WinSite allows communication among laboratory experts, scientists and computer programmers and new soldier technology developers in order to ensure that each individual piece of gear properly integrates into the larger soldier system.

About the Author

Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.

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