USAF Human Sensor Needs
April 11, 2012, Flextech Alliance Workshop, San Jose, CA—Joshua Hagen from the US Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson AFB described the programs and changing needs in their work. They need to instrument people as well as they do airplanes to match and track performance capabilities.
Their facility tests prototypes and has an analysis testbed to simulate environments and real tasks. Some of the sensors they would like to have include eye tracking, e.g., other physiological parameters, etc. to measure performance and capabilities of Air Force personnel. Data from the sensors will be used to augment performance and create baseline data for individuals and complete units.
Sensors are needed not only for monitoring the people, but advanced research is looking into biomarkers and brain activity. The biomarkers could perform chemical analysis and check people for signs of stress, disease, or other physical factors. Ideally, these would be in a wearable patch and theoretically could even detect issues like post traumatic stress disorders.
The medical community wants to monitor vital signs from mission assignment through mission debrief. This type of monitoring would require sensors with memory, and some type of telemetry to track the people. One concept is to download the data to a smart phone after a mission. One example is blood analysis. They need to monitor blood chemistries continuously to determine and correlate external activities with changes in chemistry. This is not possible with spot checks.
In addition to the sensors, providers need to integrate measurement and displays in a unified user interface to allow a rapid evaluation of physical and mental fitness for a mission. People need to be checked for physiological wellness, to ensure their safety and ability to perform. For example, firefighters suffer dehydration and heat stress while fighting fires, so a hydration monitor system could check a range of body functions and inform the team leader of people approaching physical limits.
These are only a few examples large shopping list of desired sensors. Common requirements for all sensors and systems include small size, light weight, and very low power consumption, because field workers are already carrying a lot of equipment and batteries. Many of these technologies can be spun out for civilian use, since many of the sensors will have to be disposable, and therefore very low cost.