FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) — Imagine a future battlefield where an Air Force pararescue jumper treats seven wounded service members at once. He places sensors on their chests, arms and fingers, which immediately feed vital signs to a small wireless computer, no bigger than a cell phone, on his forearm.
As he checks out the fifth person, his computer vibrates. He looks at the computer screen: the second person’s heart rate is dropping. The pararescueman moves back to the second person and performs chest compressions, saving their life.
That future is not far off. Engineers with the 711th Human Performance Wing from the Human Effectiveness Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, are working on exactly this kind of wearable technology to assist medics in the field.
It’s called BATDOK (Battlefield Airmen Trauma Distributed Observation Kit), and it is part of a larger advanced technology demonstration program known as BATMAN (Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided Knowledge), which focuses on adapting technologies to dismounted Airmen.
“Currently PJs treat patients one-to-one,” said Dr. Gregory Burnett, the program’s chief engineer. “Now we can have one PJ treat and monitor multiple patients simultaneously.”
BATDOK runs on a smartphone but can transfer to any variety of devices. “If a PJ wanted to run it in the field, he could use it on a smartphone,” Burnett said, “or he could use it on a 10-inch tablet in a helicopter.”
BATDOK includes wrist and chest mounts to make access to the device easier, although some PJs simply prefer keeping the device in their pocket.
Wireless sensors placed on the patient send aggregated vitals to the computer screen, providing PJs the ability to make emergency medical decisions. Like a cellphone, the device can be set for three kinds of alerts: auditory, tactical or visual. The alerts notify the PJ not only to which patient is in danger, but also to his or her vitals.
To develop this technology, the BATMAN research team worked very closely with PJs to identify what critical information the operators needed so the team could develop the most intuitive and effective interface.
Burnett explained that there are three phases to the team’s work: interface, innovate and integrate. Through direct interaction with the operators, the team innovated a solution, and integrated it to the PJs’ equipment and mission needs.
BATDOK does not just help during critical care. It keeps a record of all its patients’ vitals and other information. After a mission, a PJ could retrieve the data for a patient care report.
“All those key medical care procedures are logged for better documentation of care,” Burnett said.
It is also adaptable for improved technology. “We use FDA approved sensors,” said 1st Lt. Max Gabreski, a software engineer on the BATMAN team, “but if a new sensor becomes available, we find a way to quickly integrate the sensor into our system.”
BATDOK could also be used on humanitarian missions, where a commander monitors a team entering an earthquake- or tsunami-ravaged area. “It could accommodate not just the military, but civilian needs,” Burnett added.
Presently, BATDOK is being tested by Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Combat Command, and will be brought to decision boards soon. It is also being used in training scenarios at strategic locations around the United States.
“It’s getting a lot of attention from the pararescue community,” Burnett said. “It’s a really effective system, capable of improving patient survivability not just in the Air Force, but the DOD and the civilians that it cares for.”