The use of sensing technologies has been common and widespread in the military for decades, providing detailed information on the operational status and maintenance of sophisticated vehicles and systems. There is also great interest in applying soldier monitoring capabilities in near term future soldier systems but to-date only location information has been implemented. A previous NATO HFM panel, HFM 132, outlined biosensor development efforts in several countries and explored their potential in protection of soldiers. Advances in engineering and computing technologies now permit low size weight and power (SWaP) systems that are finally practical for wearable monitoring for dismounted soldiers. Prototype commercial off the shelf (COTS) physiological monitoring systems, originally informed and inspired by military physiological research, are being used by several NATO countries for research on training and operational application. Measurement of physiological strain during training can protect soldiers from serious overuse training injuries and thermal injuries, and train soldiers and cadre to understand limits of performance. Other studies in Iraq and Afghanistan have provided the first objective data on thermal work strain limits during military patrols and provided valuable information on more effective pacing strategies. Other applications have included assessment of the effectiveness of new materiel such as hot weather uniforms by objectively quantifying the physiological responses of the soldiers wearing the uniforms during field tests. The proliferation of wearable monitors in the commercial marketplace are interesting as motivational tools for fitness behaviors but lack sophistication and ruggedization in terms of accuracy, appropriate tactical communications considerations, and most importantly the validated algorithms or models to convert simple data such as activity measures or raw heart rates into predictive, tactically-relevant actionable information that a soldier or commander can use. Further advances in this area are likely to come primarily from military research activities.
Key goals of this proposed new effort include establishing closer cooperation between related research efforts using similar tools and developing algorithms and models for high priority soldier applications. A key product will be a live demonstration for the Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO (COMEDS) on the utility of new soldier wearable biosensors.
The proposed activity has three related thrust areas:
1. Development/refinement of sensors and wearable systems: A commercial physiological monitoring system developed from U.S. Army research is currently being used by several nations in military performance research. The next generation system currently in development will be much smaller, with longer battery life, higher user acceptable for soldiers, easier to use, and carry a smaller electronic signature. The generation beyond, currently in research, will use nanowatt components in a system on a chip design, enabling energy harvesting via body movement and/or heat. It is crucial for partner nations to drive the development of the right sensor sets and the militarily useable hardware, communications systems, and information displays with the soldier in mind since these needs are often orthogonal to commercial priorities. Cooperation between armies ensures interoperability and leverages limited resources through enhanced mutual reliance.
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The main objective is to explore the use of wearable biosensor systems and mathematical models to expand physiological monitoring applications for military training and operational use. Specific examples of potential priorities for the panel include:
Protection of soldiers from overuse injuries in training produced by excessive workload and biomechanical (e.g., ground reaction forces) demands
Mission performance enhancement and injury prevention from real-time thermal workload monitoring
Readiness status including sleep and wakefulness based on real-time sensor signals that go beyond activity measurements
Trigger alerts based on psychological stress and behavioral status monitoring to assess emotional activation and depression or other psychological disorders and trauma (e.g., PTSD, mTBI)
Provide tactically relevant feedback on route planning strategies based on metabolic costs and physical demands for increased effectiveness on target