TOWNSVILLE, Australia –
The Wearables Experiment is part of a Department of Defense physiological pilot program, which began around April 2022, and Talisman Sabre is the largest exercise that the Wearables Team has participated in to date.
"In the past, wearables have been placed in small exercises or unit activities or competitions," said Bryan Rivers, lead for the Talisman Sabre Wearables Experiment out of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND). "This is the first time we have put wearables on multiple services simultaneously and are spread across an entire large area of responsibility that spans thousands of miles."
Wearables research has been ongoing over the last ten years. Various efforts examined performance or fatigue monitoring and infection readiness. However, the Wearables Team is looking to merge those efforts into one architecture and network system to create a common operating picture to allow leaders to view an entire battlefield to see the readiness of multiple echelons at a glance.
The Wearables Pilot is designed to identify military applications for health monitors. Developers believe programs like the Health Readiness and Performance System (HRAPS) and similar technologies may one day give small-unit leaders real-time physiological information about their troops' responses to strenuous activities.
“So to do that, we have a variety of wearables; because no single wearable is going to fit each operational tempo or their duties,” Rivers said.
During Talisman Sabre, the Wearables Team outfitted a variety of personnel across services, including those conducting garrison and tactical operations. The team asked the 1st Armored Division to participate because it was the only U.S. Army unit providing a tank company for the exercise.
Figure 1 - U.S. Army Soldier from Comanche Company, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, receives a LifeLens patch as a part of the U.S. Wearables Experiment at the Townsville Field Training Area, Australia, July 23, 2023. The Wearables Experiment issued sensors to Soldiers participating in Talisman Sabre 23 to collect data such as core temperature and heartbeats to help predict Soldier health. This data will inform algorithms which can assist in identifying potential health issues regarding Soldier readiness to enable mission success. Talisman Sabre is the largest bilateral military exercise between Australia and the United States advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific by strengthening relationships and interoperability among key Allies and enhancing our collective capabilities to respond to a wide array of potential security concerns. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samarion Hicks)
"The Wearables Team reached out to me through division asking if I had a personal interest in participating in their research," said Capt. Jadon Arend, company commander, Comanche Company, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. "They wanted to get data on tankers, specifically to see how our Soldiers’ data compared to some of the other jobs, like the infantryman who are participating as well."
Before the exercise began, the Wearables team issued the 1st Armored Division Soldiers the LifeLens Technologies, Inc. Ascent Platform, a single-lead electrocardiogram patch that attaches to the wearer's chest, and a Garmin watch. The 1st Armored Division Soldiers who participated in the Wearables Pilot began sporting the HRAPS at the beginning of Talisman Sabre 23.
The HRAPS, designed and produced by LifeLens Technologies, Inc. – an industry development partner of the Fort Detrick, Maryland-based U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity – is a portable, user-friendly device that attaches to a user’s chest and can send near instantaneous physiological data to small-unit leaders and health care providers at an near the front lines.
Figure 2 - The Wearables Experiment Team explains the various devices they use to collect biometric data at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, Australia, July 16, 2023. The team issued sensors to soldiers participating in Talisman Sabre 23 to collect data that will inform algorithms that can assist in identifying potential issues regarding Soldier readiness to enable mission success. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Charlie Duke)
Aside from being lightweight, easy to use and cost effective, HRAPS is designed to withstand the rigors of military training and operations in austere environments, in conditions like those found in Australia. During full-spectrum combat operations in a multi-domain battlefield, real-time information of all kinds will give service members and small-unit leaders an edge when assessing the combat readiness of their troops and making operational and tactical decisions, according to Alan Harner, HRAPS product manager with USAMMDA.
“[HRAPS] is literally wear and forget,” said Harner, who traveled to Queensland to monitor the program’s inclusion during Talisman Saber 23.
The sensors are water-resistant, enabling individuals to swim, sweat and shower with them without worrying about them falling off.
The recommended wear time for a patch is two to three days before requiring the wearer to switch it out.
The Garmin watch primarily records high frequency heart rate metrics and other activity. Alongside the Oura Smart Ring, another of the many wearables, the watch is used in a program called Persistent Readiness through Early Prediction (PREP) that aims to identify infections 48 hours before the wearer became symptomatic.
“I think the watch is an amazing tool,” said Staff Sgt. Lee Ranck, a gunner assigned to Comanche Co. “It lets me monitor how I’m feeling and puts that into numbers that I can actually understand.”
The data collected from these devices has a wide array of readiness applications.
"Everyone that's on a tank or any piece of equipment, they all have the maintenance that they have to do [for those platforms and systems]. They have indicators that if something's wrong lights light up," Harner said." We don't have that for the human body, this is designed to be that gauge of what the human body looks like across the battlefield."
Another aspect of the Wearables technology is the ability to track the wearer's location.
"We have sort of a radio system that has GPS on board so we can have location for people," Harner said. "So, we can track and see where they are for triage if they become a heat injury."
Figure 3 - The Wearables Experiments Team visits Comanche Company, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry to download data collected from Soldiers over the past few days at the Townsville Training Area, Australia, July 28, 2023. Comanche Company is one of many groups of participants that is providing biometrics data during Talisman Sabre 23. During exercise Talisman Sabre 23, the Wearables Experiment focused on heat-related injuries with the Comanche Co. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Charlie Duke)
“We calculated and estimated core body temperature on the hub, as well as other metrics, to provide leadership with actionable information, so they can potentially mitigate heat injuries or other injuries as capabilities are developed,” Harner said.
Their map on an Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) device, which has color-coded dots, allows leaders to see estimated core body temperatures at a glance. A normal body temperature shows as a green dot, a temperature between 101 and 103 displays as a yellow dot and anything above those temperatures as a red dot.
"It gives an indication of who to focus on when you're looking at a whole bunch of people," Harner said. "You can look and say, ‘Oh, who's the red guy?’ and go find out where they are."
Figure 4 - Spc. William Scott, an armor crewman assigned to Comanche Company, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, receives a replacement LifeLens Technologies, Inc. Ascent Platform from Wearable Experiments during a visit to Comanche Company at the Townsville Training Area in Queensland, Australia, July 28, 2023. The Wearables Team collected data from the Soldiers participating in the research. Comanche Company is one of many groups of participants that are providing biometrics data during Talisman Sabre 23. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Charlie Duke)
Talisman Sabre is a culmination of all the lessons learned from previous Wearables Pilot activities. For the Wearables team, painting a picture of the readiness levels on the battlefield is crucial. They believe their research will enable unit leaders to make better decisions regarding the care and employment of their Soldiers. That is why they are excited about the potential applications for Wearables.
"It could go anywhere from the individual level and report back to tell them, ‘hey, you might need to take a break before you collapse from heat stroke,’" said Brent Everest, programmer with MRI-Global, one of the contractors for the JPEO-CBRND Wearables Team. "All the way to a two-star general asking, 'What is the readiness in this theater or in this location? What units are needing to be switched out?'"
There are multiple potential uses for Wearables in the future. According to Rivers, Wearables could be catered towards specific units and their operations or, due to the Wearables lifecycle, there is potential for use across the joint force where the Wearable device would be issued as a part of a service member’s central issue or rapid fielding initiative.
"We're looking at both pathways," Rivers said." We haven't decided on which one is the best to follow yet."