Dismounted, foot-mobile soldiers currently use a wide variety of wearable technologies, e.g., GPS (global positioning system) /PNT (position, navigation, timing), night vision goggles (NVGs), rangefinders, radios, other Nett Warrior items, etc. These wearable technologies, i.e., electronic systems carried and used by soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, constitute the individual soldier’s technological ecosystem.

Real-time physiological status monitors (RT-PSM) are an important new category of modern military wearable technologies. RT-PSM wearables fill a gap by providing individual soldiers and their immediate leadership with actionable physiological status information needed to ensure individual and squad health and performance/ readiness. This survey of accomplishments, requirements and research roadmaps identifies what RT-PSM is and is not, how current capabilities can be used in current programs of record, and where future research should focus.

The primary soldier platform (i.e., Nett Warrior system) is complimented by several wearable applications. RTPSM is one such application, and it provides readiness status information to small unit leaders. This information, as well as decision assist tools to the individual soldier and small unit leader, represent “exobrain capabilities,” i.e., knowledge gained from wearables or the web that enhance but do not replace good leader training and intuition.

The Army has a long history of research and development on wearable physiological monitoring systems. Notable accomplishments include the development of a commercial criterion, FDA-certified wearable research tool (Equivital, EQ-02). This system has been used extensively for field data acquisitions and refinement of algorithms and concepts of operation in various applications, beginning with thermal-work strain monitoring as the first component of a small unit leader readiness status indicator.

To date, the greatest payoff resulting from the development of this PSM system has been the ability to obtain physiological data on soldiers and marines in training and operational environments performing their normal functions under stressful conditions not easily reproducible in the laboratory. These datasets have helped guide changes in USMC work/rest doctrine, e.g., USMC rest procedures where half the squad opens up armor to accelerate cooling while the other half guards, then trades; USMC reduction in soft armor to facilitate cooling; and development of the body armor protection level (BAPL) concept and the development of concepts of operations (CONOPS) for the use of real time physiological readiness information of value to the soldier and small unit leaders. Several implementations of the RT-PSM based on thermal-work strain monitoring are underway, including technology transitions through the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier Integrated Soldier Sensor System (ISSS) program.

Capabilities to monitor readiness status of friendly forces, especially for a small unit leader, can expand rapidly once a DoD-centric open-architected PSM platform is in place for soldiers in operational environments. Near-term targets include alertness/fitness for duty and musculoskeletal status (fatigue and impending musculoskeletal injury). Mid-term targets include neurocognitive status (mood and cognitive states) and in the longer-term, host defense responses (anticipation of impending illness). Existing technologies (i.e., sensors, predictive algorithms) make these readiness indicators feasible, but a concerted R&D program is required, which includes a commitment to the development and implementation of a common wireless PSM infrastructure. Beyond detection and status monitoring, RT-PSM has multiple applications, notably a decision support tool that would provide near-and long-term courses of action tailored to the individual.

Long-term applications and objectives of this research include: casualty monitoring capabilities for the medic, health behavior self-monitoring tools for the soldier, and environmental exposure documentation for force health protection.

This work was done by Karl E. Friedl, Mark J. Buller, William J. Tharion, Adam W. Potter, Glen L. Manglapus, and Reed W. Hoyt for the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. ARL-0226


This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Real Time Physiological Status Monitoring

(reference ARL-0226) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the April, 2020 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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