How Wearable Tech is Making Work Easier and Safer for Soldiers and First Responders
Wearable technology isn’t just for fitness gurus or tech enthusiasts, and they no longer are exclusively smartwatches. For various reasons, these devices are now being used by soldiers and first responders in the field. With the help of new wearable tech, individuals on the front lines are safer, better prepared and informed, and, yes, healthier in the process.
How Wearable Tech Has Evolved
Like many technology firsts, wearable devices largely got their start in the consumer market. Consider this: the first Apple Watch was announced in late 2014, with the first model arriving in April 2015. Before this, a now-defunct company called Pebble was blowing up the crowdfunding market by offering one of the world’s first smartwatches. These early products heavily focused on tracking someone’s fitness routines and allowing end-users to extend certain functions beyond their smartphones. For example, being able to listen to music from your wrist.
In more recent years, companies have moved beyond fitness and entertainment and now offer devices with wellness features built-in. Many of today’s devices can provide on-the-fly EKG readings, keep track and analyze periods of sleep, measure blood oxygen levels, and more. In the future, these same devices and more advanced ones are likely to add real-time blood glucose level testing, help individuals track allergens, and more.
Just how big is the wearables market? In the third quarter of 2021 allow, IDC says global shipments of wearable devices hit 114.2 million worldwide.
The Use of Wearables by Soldiers and First Responders
There are various ways soldiers and first responders alike are successfully using wearables. Those on the front lines can benefit from some of the same features that everyday users enjoy from their smartphones. But more specialized features are changing the way that first responders and soldiers are using this tech.
The technology industry as a whole has long relied on sensors to detect events or changes in an environment. As these sensors have gotten smaller, they’ve become more practical for wearable devices. Biometric sensors are now playing essential roles for both military and emergency personnel.
As Butler Technologies, Inc. explains, biometric sensors printed in ink on unique fabric or other materials can now detect a soldier’s EKG, ECG, and EEG. Additional sensors can track important vitals in real-time such as heart rate and respiration. In the future, sensors could be used for physiological monitoring.
Sensors aren’t just beneficial for measuring what’s happening inside a person. They can also keep track of atmospheric conditions, such as oxygen and carbon monoxide levels in the field. When conditions deteriorate, this same personnel can decide whether the time has come to leave the scene and find safety. These sensors can work through clothing, helmets, boots, and other items worn on a person.
The same technology initially designed to track someone’s exercise routine is now being used to track someone for safety and other purposes. It’s now possible with trackers, for example, for safety officers and incident commanders to monitor firefighters in the field. By doing so, they know the location of personnel in real-time, then match it to current incidents and emergencies. This helps higher-ups to keep track of crew assignments for smoother operations.
There are now intelligent dog tags in use by the U.S. military to monitor soldiers during battle. These wearables have multiple uses, including monitoring vital signs, signs of fatigue, and tracking local environmental data.
Personal Heating Systems
For military personnel, personal heating systems have also caught on in wearable tech. These flexible heaters are typically moisture- and chemical-resistant and can quickly bond to various materials. Tied with a sensor, these systems can have the dual purpose of monitoring a soldier for excessive temperature changes.
While still in their infancy, AR glasses could one day be used by personnel in emergencies to bring up crucial medical information for life-saving work. In the future, paramedics could use remote expert capability to access medical knowledge from hospital specialists using the high-quality image and video conferencing.
The Fitness Factor
Leading healthy lives can help soldiers and first responders to better do their jobs and stay safe while doing so. For that reason, the traditional fitness benefits of wearable devices are likely to be used in these fields as well.
In the best example of this, the U.S. military continues to use wearable devices as part of its Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness Program, or MASTR-E. First introduced in 2018, the program is designed to measure, predict, and enhance close combat performance using various tools. These include sensors, performance algorithms, and much more.
Ultimately, according to the Army Times, MASTR-E is being used to make troops healthier and better “at everything from running to shooting to thinking in the midst of combat.” But the program doesn’t just monitor what soldiers are doing during training or on the battlefield. It’s also looking at how they spend their downtime and its effects on their performance.
As Joseph Patterson, the CCDC Soldier Center work package lead for MASTR-E, explained to the Army Times, “So, they can understand how certain life decisions — like playing video games until 2 in the morning — will then relate to actions on the objective. Or, if they have a healthy dinner, do foam rolling and have healthy modalities, then they can train better and have a better outcome.”
Challenges of Wearable Tech
Wearable tech in the military and by emergency management personnel isn’t without continued challenges. There’s the financial aspect, especially in smaller areas where resources are thinner. Adoptability is also heavily influenced by comfort or lack thereof. The easier it is to wear one of these devices, the more likely someone will wear it long-term.
From a pure technology perspective, connectivity is critical. Wearable devices communicate through Bluetooth, cellular data, and Wi-Fi. Without these trackers, sensors, and other devices, passing data from one location to another is impossible. Luckily, mobile connections are getting better with each passing year in most areas.
Finally, there’s the issue of security. The information collected by wearable devices should be kept private and secure. Otherwise, you’ll find much opposition from those tasked with using it.
Mason has been at the forefront of providing governments with mobility solutions. We help organizations build secure and reliable mobile products with turn-key control over both hardware and software.
Where Things Go From Here
No doubt, wearable technology is only going to get better in the coming months and years. These advances will be felt across multiple markets, not just those geared towards consumers. Wearables for soldiers and first responders will also get more flexible and advanced over time, making this work more accessible and safer.