Higher-tech headgear

The Army's 101st Airborne Division has begun issuing helmet-mounted sensors that measure blast impacts to soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan.

Approximately 1,200 101st Airborne soldiers had received the new sensors as of the first week of January, and the division was scheduled to issue the sensors to the remainder of its soldiers within a month. The Army is also scheduled to issue similar sensors to troops in the 4th Infantry Division before they are deployed to Iraq this fall, according to the Army.

The sensors collect, measure and store data on impacts ranging in strength from drops or kicks or weapons fired nearby to vehicle crashes or explosions, recording both the energy wave generated and the subsequent acceleration or jolt. Beyond improving its headgear, the Army hopes eventually to use the data to correlate the strength of explosions with the extent of the injuries a soldier sustains to improve its medical response to traumatic injuries, although it does not yet have the technical ability to do so.

The Army's Program Executive Office Soldier developed several potential sensors within three months of the June order from Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, to create the program. The office then tested the potential sensors at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland before picking two models, one external and the other internal, for deployment.

The 101st Airborne is being issued the externally mounted model, which is attached to the back of the Army's Kevlar helmet underneath a hardened casing that is covered by a camouflage flap. At six ounces, the external sensor has a six-month battery life and has enough memory to store data on 527 events. It normally remains in sleep mode but turns itself on and off automatically to record data. Soldiers download data from the sensors to a secure database by connecting them to a computer via a USB port.

The 4th Infantry Division will be issued the internal sensor, which will be located under the padding in the helmet's crown. Other than featuring a rechargeable battery, the internal sensor has the same capabilities as the external model.

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