WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio: Pararescuemen and other medical technicians will be able to remotely determine a warfighter’s health status on the battlefield with sensors designed to be worn and ingested.
The Battlefield Automatic Life Status Monitor, or BALSM, is being developed by QinetiQ North America’s Technology Solutions Group in coordination with the Air Force Research Laboratory, 711th Human Performance Wing, Human Effectiveness Directorate. The device provides remote physiologic life status monitoring for triage, rescue or recovery, and provides a health status history over time for each person being monitored.
The primary sensor is a wireless pulse oximetry unit that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood and estimates heart rate and respiration. The other sensor is a wireless capsule that when ingested, measures core body temperature. The information is sent to the pararescuemen or medic through a radio receiver and monitoring software to a computer.
“The key was to make monitoring devices that were small enough, rugged enough and able to perform remotely,” said Dr. Dianne Popik, the program manager with the Human Effectiveness Directorate, Warfighter Interface Division, Battlespace Acoustics Branch.
“By working closely with the Human Effectiveness Directorate, we were able to tailor the BALSM system to the particular needs of the battlefield Airman,” said Peter Neumann, senior scientist with QinetiQ North America’s Technology Solutions Group. “This type of physiological monitoring can serve as another tool the Air Force can use to protect the warfighter.”
The pulse oximetry sensor is worn against the forehead. The sensor emits both visible and infrared light that reflects off the skull to obtain the pulse oximetry.
“Normally pulse oximetry is read through the finger,” Dr. Popik said. “We wanted to find a location for the sensor where it would not interfere with someone’s arms or hands. The BALSM pulse oximetry sensor can be worn as a headband or can be integrated into a helmet.”
The pulse oximetry sensor also contains an accelerometer that determines if a person is standing, sitting, lying down or moving.
“The accelerometer gives the (pararescueman) or medic some valuable information,” Dr. Popik said. “If a warfighter is moving really fast, and their heart rate and respiration are really high, the person is probably running uphill, which makes sense, so the (pararescueman) or medic does not have to be concerned that the warfighter’s health is in jeopardy — he or she is just on the move. If the warfighter has an elevated heart rate and respiration rate and seems to be inactive or prone, this paints a different picture for the (pararescueman) or medic and may indicate the warfighter is injured.”
The capsule that measures core body temperature is the other part of the remote monitoring system. It is an ingestible, medical-grade, FDA approved sensor that reports a person’s core body temperature shortly after being swallowed.
“Your core body temperature is an important measurement because when it trends either too high or too low, it is hard to stop that trend,” Dr. Popik explained.
Dr. Popik said BALSM provides medical technicians with lifesaving information about warfighters in harm’s way.
“A (pararescueman) or medic cannot see if a person has been shot or if they are hypothermic and need immediate help,” Dr. Popik said. “With BALSM they can understand a warfighter’s health status right away. Also, a warfighter may not be aware that he or she is suffering from a condition such as dehydration, hypothermia or hyperthermia.”
The device is especially advantageous for special operations forces, who may be in an area where they cannot communicate out loud. It can help commanders decide if they have enough healthy troops to continue a mission, or if they need to change their plans. BALSM also would assist in determining rescue versus recovery efforts.
“If you know someone has been injured and you cannot get to them right away, it is essential to know if that person is still alive, as that drives when and how the person gets pulled out of his or her location,” Dr. Popik said.
BALSM also has commercial applications.
“Remotely measuring core body temperature would be ideal for people who are running triathlons and other athletes,” Dr. Popik said. “BALSM could be beneficial to firefighters — persons in extreme situations where you would want to know their health status. The device could also assist in field triaging situations where a single medic monitors multiple patients and needs to be alerted to a change in health status of any of these patients.”