It seems to me that the technology to support the application is pretty accessible. I'm actually surprised uniforms like this aren't a staple on the battlefield. Any sense as to why it's lagged behind? I would think there would be dozens of small businesses all over this opportunity to land a meaty government contract.
One answer is power. The uniform becomes just another device requiring power to run. A significant percentage of the load a soldier must carry is spare batteries. The army is currently on a push to get all the devices a soldier now carries to use a common battery size.
Assume an adhoc network of minimally intelligent sensors embedded in fabric, scattered around the entire body. With some rudimentary spatial framework analysis resulting in a three-dimensional "body image", with ancillary temperature and perhaps pressure and acoustic measurements, it should be possible to map out everything happening to the uniform wearer -- from loose backpack straps and untied shoelaces down to point-of-impact for projectile wounds and, worst case, impact damage and loss of limbs, etc.
In a perfect world, that adhoc network would be able to make use of (and share) spare processing power to perform augmented intelligence tasks, acting for example as a full-body haptic interface between the wearer and a "smart phone" or equivalent, or, depending on line-of-sight and optical interface options, interfacing/coordinating between multiple individuals. I like the possibility of acoustic point-of-discharge analysis for incoming fire, too, given the virtual-sensor-array size benefit of correlating input from multiple uniforms across an area. Sharing processor power gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "All right, let's huddle up"...
It would seem that another DN post going into detail about the benefits of ultracapacitors versus batteries (re wind-farm generators) might be pertinent to the power requirements (given that you do NOT want to have to monkey with replacing sensor battery elements).
@flare0one: The application in the textile is easy but putting it in a functional military uniform is the challenge.
Worldwide, uniforms have evolved to meet the needs of military personnel. Some things can't be moved or removed because it interferes with the new technology. The uniforms have to maintain their function under a wide range of conditions-hot, dry, wet, cold, etc.
I'm assuming that each sensor point would be some type of encapsulated "lump" which could reasonably be attached (encapsulated?) after the uniform itself has been fabricated. Most sensors could conceivably be general purpose, with a subset designed to be positioned adjacent to key physiological elements (heart, trachea, carotid, diaphragm, etc) and another subset (if specialization is necessary) designed to be gridded in primary haptic I/O points (gloves, forearms, thighs, chest, back, hips, etc). The majority of the volume of each "lump" would likely be made up of the encapsulant, some type of transducer (piezo? etc), the network transceiver mechanism, and the ultracapacitor energy storage element.
But the intent would be for these devices to be attached where there is space available, not to preempt priority of any existing uniform functionality (other than maybe augmenting buttons, snaps, closures, elastics (for power generation), etc). The actual encapsulated "lump" could feasibly survive environmental excursions that would exceed the limits of the wearer (and the rest of the uniform).
In the sense that design is always an iterative process, with "what we COULD do" influencing "where are we going with this", some kind of evolving specification would emerge, hopefully soon enough to prevent self-destructive "feature creep".
You're right, TJ, the uniform would need a power source. But that could be taken care of by using a device that generates power. The military already has devices that attach to the boot and charge batteries through simple movement such as walking.
Rob, I know of the boot mechanism you describe (saw it featured either here or at Machine Design).
In Robert Heinlein's words: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. The boot mechanism uses a trooper's own energy. That means in addition to walking, the trooper puts some effort into moving the boot mechanism. A little extra resistance.
I don't see that particular mechanism going very far. It's too external (susceptable to damage). Anything that would sap energy from me (extra resistance to movement) is NOT going to be greeted with enthusiasm.
Think about it. Would you want to wear something that resists your motion after climbing Afghan mountains all day?
The soldiers of WWII frequently jettisoned their gas masks as soon as they could, calling it extra, unnecessary weight.
The better means of powering this clothing would be the cloth that uses temperature differential (outer layer to inner layer) to generate electricity (it was featured here a month or two ago). Combine that cloth with this technology would be a VERY smart thing.
Easy to hypothesize a context where having your uniform "call home" might equate to "painting a target on your position". But if you consider the benefit to a "Man Down!" of being able to pinpoint the person's location (via a low-signal-strength short-range signal)so no need to search through debris and rubble, yes, you get faster aid. And with many types of wounds, the primary immediate need is to apply pressure to the wound: the UNIFORM could handle that. Assuming some combination of contractile and inflatable fabric, the uniform could form a localized pressure pad and significantly reduce the loss of blood from a trunk wound. The same functionality would enable an intelligent "tourniquet" for wounds to extremities. These various capabilities, in conjunction with the audio capability of the distributed sensors, also enable a virtual "blood pressure cuff".
Realizable goals and constraints accumulate and evolve.
One way to keep a Formula One racing team moving at breakneck speed in the pit and at the test facility is to bring CAD drawings of the racing vehicleís parts down to the test facility and even out to the track.
Most of us would just as soon step on a cockroach rather than study it, but thatís just what researchers at UC Berkeley did in the pursuit of building small, nimble robots suitable for disaster-recovery and search-and-rescue missions.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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