With OWHS, USAMRDC Fusing Soldier Care, Technology for Future Fight
The Army's focus on wearable technology and its potential to improve the readiness and resiliency of the larger Force continues to shine a spotlight – now more than ever – on the efforts of the Medical Research and Development Command. After a several months of innovation in this area – in part spurred by the DOD's sprawling response to the COVID-19 pandemic – comes a new effort: the Optimizing the Human Weapon System program.
"This is a very novel effort for the command, and I think it will help inform a lot of future efforts," says Dr. Malena Rone, portfolio manager for Physiological Health and Performance at MRDC's Military Operational Medicine Research Program. "What makes OWHS so unique and important is that it focuses on the longitudinal data of the individual Service Member, which will allow us to look at performance in garrison or deployed environments over the course of many months."
In short, OWHS is designed to allow the Army to think, learn and analyze essential human performance and wellness data in an ecologically valid way. Developed as a partnership between MOMRP and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, the OHWS program uses a combination of both hardware (in the form of wearable sensors) and software (via smartphone-enabled daily check-ins) to generate information to help commanders and medical officers identify individual Service Members who may need additional care; both of which are key capabilities during potential and likely multi-domain combat operations, where sustained exposure to a variety of physical and cognitive stressors is expected.
"This falls into line with some of our interests with wearables such as how, exactly, do you use wearable data collection opportunities to drive a better understanding of how people are doing, and how can it be used for performance?," says Cmdr. Christopher Steele, MOMRP director. "For us, this provides an additional readiness and wellness check." Outside of providing for extensive tracking and understanding the impacts of COVID-19 exposures on physical performance, a major component of the OWHS program is that it allows for a more in-depth analysis of sleep patterns, and how those patterns in turn both build performance and maintain readiness. For Steele, sleep is perhaps the most essential building block of cognitive and physical resiliency.
"Sometimes we don't even know what 'normal' looks like when we're sleep-deprived," he says. "So this is just a way to tell a Service Member, 'Hey, this is where you are, relative to where you've been.'"
Notably, OWHS aligns with a complementary DEVCOM project called the Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness, or MASTR-E, program, which itself is a data-based research effort designed to deliver infantry units the capability to measure, predict and enhance human performance during close combat operations via the use of wearable biometric sensors. As part of the effort, OWHS recruited the Army's 10th Mountain Division to help field test specific equipment and procedures, including the ability to identify early cases of COVID-19. During initial testing efforts, which began in 2020, OHWS helped detect twenty cases of illnesses – including one case of COVID-19 prior to the onset of symptoms. Further, according to officials at DEVCOM, OWHS aided in identifying high-risk behaviors that likely prevented a suicide attempt. Extrapolate those numbers across hundreds of units and several years, and the value of such capabilities becomes apparent.
"Combined with the measurement, prediction and enhancement tools from MASTR-E, DEVCOM and MRDC, the Army has the framework for a persistent human performance modernization platform for the first time," says MASTR-E Program Manager George Matook, noting the enormous potential of the project. "Combining wearables and athlete management software is a critical first step to bringing modern performance management to the force."
For the team at MOMRP, OWHS serves as prime example of what can be accomplished when technological innovation is combined with the need for comprehensive Warfighter care. In this case, the ultimate hope is to create a more resilient and lethal force.