Dog tags get digital test drive

The Army this month completed testing on seven digital dog tag prototypes designed to
carry a soldier’s medical history into the battlefield.


One of the products could be distributed to all Defense Department personnel and their
dependents, service officials said.


The 60-day test, which began June 15 at the Electronic Proving Ground in Fort Huachuca,
Ariz., was designed to measure the performance of the devices against extreme heat,
humidity and freezing temperatures, as well as vibration, shock, sand, dust and rain, DOD
officials said.


The Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at Fort Detrick, Md., released
a request for information on personal information carriers in March 1998.


TATRC selected the finalists, a cross section of several technologies, from 46 vendors
that responded to the RFI. Some prototypes resemble traditional dog tags, while others
resemble credit cards with smart card technology.


“Six companies signed loan agreements with us and gave us their products,”
said Maj. Catherine Beck, acting director of TATRC’s Information Science Division.
All of the products are small, commercial electronic storage devices, she said.


“The preliminary reports suggest that they’re making our job hard because
they’re all doing extremely well,” Beck said.


Two of the products are from SanDisk Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif.: CompactFlash, a data
device with up to 230M of memory, and MultiMediaCard, a postage stamp-sized device with up
to 32M of memory.


The original RFI called for at least 20M of memory to hold imagery, text and even audio
applications. But the Army is still determining how much memory is required, Beck said,
based on the amount of data contained in a soldier’s health records. The records
would hold less than a year’s worth of information to more than 20 years’ worth,
depending on the length of a soldier’s military service.


The data devices will store an individual’s medical status and history, including
medical documents, X-rays and vaccination records.


“We’re shooting for partial-to-complete, computer-based records,” Beck
said. “We’ll start with a little information and add to it as the years go
by.”


The Army will release a formal request for proposals in October to conduct a
full-and-open competition to shorten the list further. Beta testing on those candidates is
set for the fall of 1999, Beck said.


The Army plans to give the devices to more than 33,000 personnel in the three services
as part of that test. The winning data storage devices could eventually be carried by
millions of active duty and reserve DOD personnel, Army officials said.


The Army also evaluated Medi-Tag, from Data-Disk Technology Inc. of Sterling, Va. The
device resembles an eraser-sized dog tag and has up to 80M of memory.


The company developed the Medi-Tag prototype with funding from the Army in 1996. But
the service dropped the initial 10M Medi-Tag prototype to look at the storage capabilities
of other products.


The four other products being evaluated are the 2M Memory Key from Datakey Inc. of
Burnsville, Minn.; the 256K SmartCard from Tecsec Inc. of Vienna, Va.; the 6M Optical
Memory Card from LaserCard Systems Corp. of Mountain View, Calif.; and the 7K iButton
Memory Device from Ichor Corp. of North Charleston, S.C.


“Most of the 46 companies that responded to the RFI were software companies, and
they wanted to write the software,” Beck said. “But the first statement in our
request was that we’re not interested in software—hardware only.”


“Of course, we’ll need to have the software in place because we have to write
to it and read from it,” Beck said.


The Army has adopted Microsoft Windows NT as the standard operating system for all
computers deployed in the field.


The service will use a direct card-level interface to read from and write to the data
storage device. The data on the dog tags will be encrypted to protect the privacy of the
wearer.


“The record belongs to the hospital, but the data is the patient’s, and they
have a right to it,” Beck said. “If a patient goes to multiple hospitals and
labs, they can collect all that data on one card with all that information together in one
location.”    

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