Military looks to wearables for COVID intelligence

To help the Air Force identify and trace personnel infected with COVID-19 as quickly as possible, the service's innovation shop wants to buy approximately 10,000 wearable devices that will monitor biometric data and alert wearers if they may be infected.

In collaboration with the Office of the Joint Surgeon General, AFWERX, the Air Force’s unit dedicated to accelerating innovation, issued a request for information looking for commercially available wearable devices that support the Pandemic Case Management Suite and provide early infection data to commanders to inform their readiness decision.

While the requested 10,000 wearables will not track the wearer’s location or store personally identifiable information, they must work within secure spaces, be available in 60 days and share data with other devices, third-party integrators and Air Force toolsets.

Other defense agencies also are on the hunt for a wearable COVID detector. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Defense Innovation Unit are developing the Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure technology. RATE uses commercial-off-the-shelf rings or watches to monitor subtle changes in 165 different biomarkers that could indicate the onset of an infection. It alerts wearers to the virus up to 48 hours before they become symptomatic, allowing them to quarantine, get tested and seek treatment without spreading the disease.

Rather than concentrating on identifying infected personnel by their symptoms, the Naval Sea Systems Command is seeking wearable proximity tracking devices that would calculate the total time and at what distance two individuals with the wearables have been in close contact. The technology would estimate the distance between the wearables, recording the identifying information of the wearers’ devices as well as the date and time of the measurement.

At the end of October, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) awarded FitBit nearly $2.5 million to advance development of a wearable diagnostic capability for the early detection of a COVID-19 infection.

“The Department of Defense seeks rapid, accurate wearable solutions to identify and isolate pre-symptomatic COVID-19 cases and help track and prevent the spread of the virus,” Commander Christopher Steele, director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program at USAMRDC, said in response to the FitBit award. “Wearable technologies, valuable data metrics and potentially rapid scaling solutions for broad availability, create ideal conditions for military and industry partnerships in the consumer wearables space.”

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