By Debbie Gregory.
Breakthroughs in biometric science mean future troops will fight with weapons that understand them, inside and out.
The U.S. military is funding research to collect biophysical data from soldiers, sailors, Marines, and pilots in order to improve troops’ performance by understanding what’s happening inside their bodies.
The research will help develop the next generation of fighter jets, body armor, computer systems, and weapons, which will work more cohesively with those at the controls.
Pentagon-backed researchers are designing an entirely new generation of wearable health monitors that will relay valuable information about the person to whom the system is bound, including focus, alertness, health, and stress.
Over the past two years, the military has purchased more than $2 million worth of biomedical tracking devices. But it turns out that off-the-shelf consumer devices, such as Fitbits, aren’t good enough for the military’s biotracking ambitions.
That’s why researchers are creating a new class of wearables, based on new research into what size electrodes are the most efficient.
One application for such sensors would be helmets that record brain activity while their wearers do their jobs. Modern fighter jets expose human bodies to physical forces that are still not entirely understood. For example, in the past, F-22 pilots reported in-flight episodes of confusion, shortness of breath, and skin-color changes, which are symptoms of hypoxia, or decreased oxygen in the blood. These symptoms were due to speed.
Beyond helmets, Air Force researchers are working on a comprehensive cognitive monitoring system, one which may not need a physical sensor on the body, but rather the information would be gathered using cameras.
In fact, one research project configured a laptop camera lenses to detect hemoglobin oxygenation, which lets you read a person’s heart rate from a distance.
Sensors can also detect changes in metabolism that indicate weariness and stress before the person notices.
These innovations are making their way into actual gear and weapons. By 2020, Navy SEAL teams and Army Rangers could take down high-value targets while wearing an exoskeleton that’s earned the nickname ‘Iron Man.’