New body units offer info on effects of blasts on soldiers

U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Scott Rider from Kilo Company of 3rd Battalion 8th Marines Regiment patrols in Garmser, Helmand Province on June 20, 2012. The U.S. military is experimenting with new ways to gather data to help personnel in short-term and long-term.

About 700 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan begin testing something called the Soldier Body Unit this month. It's a series of sensors designed to measure the impact of explosions, like bomb blasts, on a soldier's head and body.

The Director of Technology Management for the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, Gary Frost, says they didn't know enough about what was happening to soldiers. "It's not conclusive, but it's in some studies that says hey, there's effect on the body, the tissue, the liver, the internal organs that might be affected by the blast, so the two things that we did the research and we knew we needed to capture at a minimum would be the blast pressure and the actual acceleration and deceleration."

The suit has small sensors, each one about the size of a pencil eraser. It's like an airplane's black box. Says Frost: "It'll record the blast from what the body's feeling, the acceleration and the deceleration, and it'll also record what happens to the head as associated to the body, and when an event happens, a medical personnel or someone can come up wirelessly via a phone or Android-type phone and can pull the data straight from the soldier and record it."

The suits will be worn by soldiers who depart a combat outpost to go out to where it's a lot more dangerous.

Frost: So, when the soldier gets in the vehicle, we can identify which seat that soldier by name is in and then when the blast hits, we'll measure what exactly happened to the vehicle.  How many Gs did the vehicle take? and then what happened to the seat the soldier was sitting in? What happened to the Soldier Body Unit? What happened to the head sensor? All that will be pulled off the black box and sent back to a database at Fort Detrick, Md.

Moe: And what happens with all that info?

Frost: Immediately when it happens, there's a light sensor on the soldier's piece and on the vehicle, so the commander on the ground will say soldier, I know you've been in a blast, and here's what we need to do. We need to go through a series of tests and if we need to send you down to one of the MRI machines, then that's what happens.

The military plans to hold on to the data it collects for long-term use. Frost says, "Someday down the road we're in the VA and we're demonstrating symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury, then they can go back to this database, and they can look and find out when we were in an event, what happened, how many Gs we pulled, what happened to the other soldiers in the vehicle and compare them."

And Frost says the material will be used for research outside the military. "We can keep all the information but the soldier's name for the privacy and we can start sharing that with academia and industry and say, hey, now let's collectively, so this innovation cloud say, you take a look at it so we can get thousands of minds looking at this data saying hey, we think this is what causes traumatic brain injury."

**

Moe:  We take you now to the medal ceremony for the Worst Use of Twitter at the Olympics.

Larissa Anderson: Now receiving the Bronze Medal, Twitter. Journalist Guy Adams criticized NBC's coverage and tweeted the email address of NBC's President. NBC then filed a complaint and Twitter suspended Adams account. The account has now been restored.

Moe: Twitter earned that one. Okay, the Silver is being awarded to... The Olympics. Apparently the servers in London have been so overwhelmed with tweets that they've been crashing. At one point, spectators were asked to only send "urgent tweets".

Anderson: Why not get more servers?

Moe: Would've made sense. But wouldn't have gotten them a medal in Worst Use of Twitter.

Anderson: For the gold: a tie. Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella kicked off the team for racist tweets against the South Korean squad he had just lost to.

Moe: And Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, kicked out for making fun of African immigrants on Twitter.

Anderson: Really not getting the spirit of the games.

Moe: And here now, the national anthem of bad judgment. (sad trombone sound) 

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...