Army brings dog tags into the electronic age

Army brings dog tags into the electronic age

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The Army last month awarded a $34 million contract for up to 2 million electronic dog tags that will let soldiers carry vital health information with them onto the battlefield.

Informatech Inc. of Frederick, Md., will supply personal information carriers (PICs) from SanDisk Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., said Bill Howell, director for advanced development and acquisition at the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md., which ran the procurement.

'After thorough testing, the SanDisk PIC was selected for several reasons. SanDisk has demonstrated technology leadership in the industry, the company has a very progressive capacity road map for the PIC, and the product itself is very rugged and durable,' said Lt. Col. Bradley J. Dawkins, the Defense Department PIC project manager at the Composite Health Care System II office.

The contract award followed two years of research and will initially fund a pilot. The Army can exercise the contract's options if it decides to use the PICs servicewide.

The Army is buying 5,000 SanDisk PICs for about $118,000 for a proof of concept that will take place from December to February, Howell said. The proof of concept will pit the PICs, which will have 8M of flash memory, against smart cards.

Army officials want the PICs to hold medical data such as allergy history, blood type, immunization records, and predeployment and deployment health information, and Howell said he prefers PICs over smart cards because they can hold more data.

Expensive memory

The additional memory comes at a price, said Grady Tucker, a PIC manufacturer's representative in Gaithersburg, Md. Most smart cards cost about $2, while PICs with 2M of memory run about $30 each and 8M models go for around $100, he said.

An accompanying PC Card reader costs $50 to $300, he said.

Through separate contracts, CHCS II officials are developing a common patient record system and a centralized database record system that could be used for deployments in about a year, Howell said.

Army officials will have to work to protect the privacy of data stowed on the PICs. A partial key can be used to encrypt data in a SanDisk PIC.

When soldiers are deployed, network connectivity is not available, so Army officials want the PICs to carry all medical data that doctors in the field might need, Howell said. When soldiers return from deployment, any data changes could be updated on a central database.

And the PICs can be read by a device that fits into a Type II PC Card slot.

The Army might buy 25,000 PICs during the contract's first year, said Ed Cuellar, a SanDisk product manager. The contract includes four option years, through which the service could buy 2 million PICs, and expansion of the contract throughout DOD is possible, he said.

Flash memory is best because PICs have no moving parts, Cuellar said. To win the Army contract, SanDisk rounded the edges on the PICs to make the devices more comfortable to wear, and a hole was added that lets soldiers carry the PIC on a keychain or neck chain.

The PICs also withstand moisture from perspiration, petroleum and seawater, Cuellar said.

For more information on the PIC project, visit www.armymedicine.mil and cba.ha.osd.mil/projects/fhp/pic/pic-main.htm.

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