Defence & Intelligence

Wearables for the Military?

There has been much talk about the “connected soldier” usually around the sort of features shown in Figure 1.  But there is something bigger coming, driven by commercial investment in wearable technologies.

Connected Soldier

Figure 1 – The Connected Soldier (source : ITT Cannon)

There are many excellent, insightful & forward looking presentations on wearable technology.  A couple of my favourites are “Where’s Wearable Tech Heading” & “The Future of Wearable Tech”.  I take away the following key points:

  1. The technology is developing fast, and has been for some time.
  2. There are a whole range of uses – some of which will be interesting for the military, some less so.
  3. Wearable devices generate masses of data – the key is putting it to good usage.
  4. The processing capability and storage capacity in wearables is growing fast.

The technology is developing at a pace.  IDC predict that over 45 million units will ship this year and that wrist wear will dominate in the next four years, as shown in Figure 2.

Wearable by Product 2019

Figure 2 – Wearable Market Products by 2019 (source : IDC)

OK – so how can any of this commercial stuff of any use to the military?  Let’s consider a few possibilities . . .

Near Term (=Now)

There are wearables technologies mature enough to add value now, including:

Fitness monitoring – a myriad of wearable technology exists, ranging from sport specific offerings from Garmin to fitness apps on the multi-functional & amazing Apple Watch.  These measure a range of vitals (e.g heartbeat sensor on the Apple Watch) and geo-locate the wearer. This gets really interesting in the analysis of the data.  Apps such as Strava lets the user track their running and riding with GPS, join Challenges, share photos from activities, and follow friends.  Military personnel must pass fitness tests before joining up, and maintain a level of fitness whilst serving.  Why not using wearables and using military equivalents of Strava (or similar)?

Video Capture – is commercial video capture ready for prime time with the military?   If you are in any doubt visit the GoPro video library, choose your favourite sport and watch a video!   Interestingly, the Israeli Military has published video captured from a soldier’s helmet from a recent conflict.  The possibilities ranging from post mission debrief / future mission planning and training are endless  – with technology that exists today.

Medium Term

As the technology matures, other possibilities open up.  For example

Wellness Monitoring – proactive monitoring of military personnel through their career could offer benefits to both the individual and their employer.  Fitness regimes could be designed to match the needs of the individual and medical intervention – either routine or emergency – could be better informed leading to better outcomes and faster recovery.  This could be supported by the analysis of data gathered from wearable technologies.

Enhanced Video Analytics – automatic scene recognition and enhanced analysis of collected video – either in near real time or after the event – greatly increases the value of video collected in the battlefield.  This is hard – more so with a moving collector – but technologies such as IBM IMARS and IBM CARMEL are in research but maturing fast.

Longer Term

Ad -hoc Battlefield Cloud?  The capacity of small, connected devices is growing so fast that by 2017 the collective computing power and storage capacity in Smartphones will surpass all servers, worldwide.  The possibility of harnessing this in the battle-space is compelling.  Developments such as Information Fabric (part of the International Technology Alliance program) could enable ad-hoc battlefield storage and compute networks to be formed and constantly “morphed” as new computing nodes (wearables) become available / disappear.  

This compute power could be used for anything, ranging from the more efficient analysis of the data from wearables to the local analysis of battlefield sensor or logistics data.  The possibilities are endless . . 

I’m very interested in your views on this topic.  Leave me a comment, drop me an e-mail or tweet – or even give me a call!

Director - Blockchain | National Security - CTO Team Europe

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