SBCCOM Online Menu Bar  


Return to SBCCOM - Natick Public Affairs

U.S. Army Soldier & Biological Chemical Command
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: November 8, 2001
No: 01-58

Physiological monitors key to peak performance

Natick, Mass. --- The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM), an installation partner of the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick) and subordinate laboratory of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), is leading the effort to develop technologies to monitor the physiological status of U.S. warfighters during military operations and training through the Warfighter Physiological Status Monitoring Program (WPSM).

The goal of the WPSM effort is to provide future operational (field) commanders with important information regarding the current and predicted physiological state of their soldiers or Marines in order to guarantee their warfighters are operating at peak performance.

Armed with this type of information, commanders will be much better equipped to assess risk to their forces, plan operations, and tailor logistic support for rations and water.

Using an "Integrated Research Team," the USAMRMC is leading research and development efforts to produce individual monitoring systems that will provide critical information to commanders.

USARIEM, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, and the Natick Soldier Center are key elements of the research team developing WPSM technologies. These and other team members from government research agencies, academic institutions, and private industry ensure a broad-based research approach.

In addition, representatives from the user and acquisition communities guarantee that WPSM development efforts will satisfy the user's anticipated operational requirements and mesh with other soldier systems under development.

WPSM addresses the medical aspects of the next generation combat uniform being developed at Natick and will ultimately consist of a configurable array of miniaturized, wireless sensors distributed around the warfighter's body.

The current experimental WPSM prototype includes sensors for heart rate, metabolic energy cost of walking (marching), core and skin temperatures, and activity/inactivity. A dead reckoning/Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) module provides geolocation.

Sensor data will be transmitted to a central hub-a prototype version is the size of a pager and worn on the belt-using a low-power, wireless, Personal Area Network (PAN). Data from the current suite of sensors provide information on energy expenditure, physiological stress and alertness levels of the warfighter.

The sensors will operate under their own power for several weeks at a time and be low-cost, disposable and transparent to the user. Time-synchronized data from the sensors will be sent via a wireless PAN to the warfighter's digital fighting system. Once received, the aggregated data may then be stored or passed to the individual warfighter's digital fighting system, command communication networks and, in the future, the Internet.

The PAN technology is expected to have dual-use applications in the health care industry. WPSM maximizes the use of intelligent sensors that contain embedded microprocessors. These sensors preprocess biological signals into useful information before transmission. For example, heart rate data are extracted by an onboard microprocessor from continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) data obtained by the sensor. Usually, the extracted heart rate data provide sufficient physiological status information, and the remainder of the ECG signal is discarded, thus reducing the volume of data for transmission and minimizing bandwidth requirements.

Planned bi-directional sensor communication will allow sensor function to be reprogrammed on command or as the result of a specific event. For example, the heart rate sensor will be able to alter its function and provide a full ECG signal to medics in the event of wounding on the battlefield.

Predicting individual performance requires the development of complex algorithms based on understanding the human response to battlefield stressors.

The effects of these stressors, both individually and in combination, are being determined through rigorous investigation under controlled conditions in the laboratory, as well as in field experiments. The relationship of energy expenditure, thermal status, and alertness level to an individual warfighter's predicted performance capacity is being defined.

Strategies to mitigate the negative effects of stress are also being explored.

This basic research is primarily supported by the core science and technology programs of the Operational Medicine Research Area of USAMRMC and is performed under several Army Science and Technology Objectives and Defense Technology Objectives. This research is highly leveraged with both academic and government research institutions through cooperative research and development agreements and extramural funding.

The development of WPSM sensors is closely related to the development of a warrior medic capability to perform remote triage on the battlefield.

When a soldier is wounded, WPSM sensors will be able to provide the warrior medic with valuable information regarding critical body functions before arrival at the casualty site.

This information, combined with geolocation information provided by dead reckoning and GPS data, will allow the warrior medic to assess and locate the most critical casualties and to effectively manage their care.

Field tests of prototype WPSM systems have involved studies at Fort Benning, Georgia, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory and the Dismounted Battlespace Battle Lab.

In addition, studies were conducted in connection with the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va., and most recently at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La.

These field studies have demonstrated that experimental WPSM systems can reliably collect physiological data under diverse environmental conditions.

Researchers are also exploring the addition of physiological sensors to assess physical fatigue, total weight, hydration status and blood oxygen levels. These new sensors will augment WPSM's ability to predict critical aspects of performance, especially under extremes of temperature and altitude.

Natick is part of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM). Fore more information about SBCCOM or the Soldier Systems Center (Natick), please visit our website at