Wearable sensors could prevent troops from overheating

Soldiers hauling heavy gear in high-operational-tempo environments can easily get too hot. In fact, the Army has recorded thousands of cases of heat-related injuries.

Now a multi-institutional team is working to develop sensors that can identify the warning signs over an overheated system and give commanders a warning when troops need to stop and cool down.

“You can have somebody go down from heat exhaustion, and then you have to take a soldier away from the fight. Heat exhaustion not only impacts soldiers physically, but also cognitively by affecting decision-making, which is detrimental to a mission,” said Mark Buller, a principle investigator with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM. “By catching heat illness symptoms early, you can do something about it.”

USARIEM is seeking just such an early-warning system as part of a joint project with a team from MIT Lincoln Laboratory and a Marine Corps expeditionary rifle squad. Together they are looking to combine a wearable sensor with an algorithm that will look for telltale signs of pending heat stress in simple biological markers.

Such a system would give a scientific edge to a critical detection function that today is left almost to chance. “Right now soldiers typically look at each other in buddy pairs: I keep an eye on you, you keep an eye on me. But it is all subjective,” principle investigator Bill Tharion said. He was describing the common practice in terms of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear missions, but the observation holds true across a range of activities in which soldiers are asked to operate without physiological monitoring technology.

In the past two decades, USARIEM developed dozens of physiological monitoring systems. Drawing on the experience, the present effort looks to develop a simple means of estimating core body temperature based on heart rate readings. The system would then deliver a simple readings scale of 1 to 10 to alert commanders when soldiers are getting too hot.

To develop their algorithms, the project leaders have studied real-world battlefield data generated by a Marine expeditionary…

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