Future of Wearable Technologies

Military

War never changes, but technology does. With the improvements and new inventions in technology, war culture is also advancing rapidly. And the technologies in any industry are being implemented to the military culture, one of the crucial being the wearable technologies. The decrease in the size of ordnance let armies equip their soldiers with high-tech wearable systems such as smart combat glasses, exoskeletons, and biosensors.

Smart Combat Helmets

Smart glasses are getting more conventional every year and their applications are getting more widespread. However, the focus will be on the military use of smart glasses. There have been tons of advancements in aerospace engineering and fighter jets nowadays are capable of reaching unbelievable speeds and carrying dozens of tons of explosives and ammunition. However, the operators of those killing machines, are still mostly humans instead of machines so they have limited views. When the operation weather is foggy or it’s night time the jets are basically useless without smart glasses. All of the modern fighter pilots have modern combat helmets with integrated smart glasses on them. “The helmet is much more than a helmet, the helmet is a workspace,” said the Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III at a 2015 briefing on the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets’ pilot helmet.[1] The new headgear feeds real-time data such as airspeed, altitude, direction, and classifies other aircraft as enemy or friend.[1] This super helmet also lets the pilot change the real-time video feed with thermal imagery or night vision. The downsides of these helmets are being heavy. Since there are many sensors and integrated circuits, the helmets can go up to 6 kgs [2], and they weigh approximately 9 times as much under high-g accelerations. This technology is advancing at a high pace, and experts believe that the future jets will be remotely controlled by a pilot with a helmet while he is pressing some buttons in the military post.

Figure 1: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jets’ pilot helmet[3]

Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons are the gadgets that the operator wears like an item of clothing for additional power, agility, and endurance. The most famous exoskeleton is the Iron Man’s suit which is the perfect way to turn a normal human being into a killing machine. There are several exoskeleton prototypes for military use that are still developing. According to the article [4] on the world’s biggest aerospace, defense, and arms company Lockheed Martin’s website, the key features of their exoskeleton ONYX are listed as such: “enhances strength and endurance to carry taxing loads over distance, enables better handling and support for heavy weapons, reduces metabolic cost of transport to improve endurance and reduce fatigue, increases the ability to traverse stairs, inclines, and rough terrain, especially with load, and reduces stress on leg muscles”. That list goes on, however, there also are strong oppositions to the military exoskeletons. In the “Why Military Exoskeletons Will Remain Science Fiction” article [5] aerospace and defense engineer Vikram Mittal argues that the military exoskeletons are far from being efficient and useful. He lists the technical obstacles before having a well-functioning exoskeleton as such. The first of them is that the machine itself is not smart enough to predict the motion of the operator and the embedded sensors will be delayed so the parts will be laggy resulting in soldiers “feeling like they are moving through a pool of Jell-O,”. [5] Another challenge is that the exoskeleton attachments limiting the full range of motion of the joints. Mittal criticizes the current prototypes which aim to support all body as “Although actuating a knee is straightforward, more complex joints, such as hips and ankles, require very advanced, multi-dimensional actuators,”. He finalizes his article by saying the exoskeleton technology is more likely to stay as fiction. [5]

Figure 2: Exoskeletons from Lockheed Martin[6]

Energy

All these technologies come with a cost which restricts the soldiers on the field: energy. The energy requirement is the sturdiest barrier against wearable technologies, however, there are many companies coming up with products addressing this problem. Since it’s impossible to charge infantry units like a smartphone, their energy storage must also be mobile. A Canadian Military Exo Development company named BionicPower aims to solve this issue by using the soldiers’ mechanical energy. They define their product’s mission on their website as such: “Today, we are focused on developing our PowerWalk® Kinetic Energy Harvester for military use and began multi-unit field trials with the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and Canadian Forces this year“. [7] They state that a soldier carries around 8–9 kg in batteries on a three-day mission. And using PowerWalk a soldier would be able to generate around 12 watts walking and up to 30 watts jogging of power by optimizing the power output using the built-in microprocessors. For comparison, 12 watts is equivalent to generating enough energy to charge 4 mobile phone batteries with an hour-long paced walking. This would drastically decrease the soldiers’ loads and the unit’s reliance on resupply while increasing the effective duration of operations.

Biosensors

How it Works

Biosensors are devices that measure concentration of a substance of interest in chemical reactions that happen inside the body of an organism or the environment. [8] A biosensor is made out of a transducer which converts the biological feedback to an electrical signal and a specific biological component which does the sensing part. The bioelement can range from macromolecules such as proteins or nucleic acids to more complex biological structures such as microorganisms, organelles or pieces of tissues. The signal generated when the biomaterial interacts with its environment is converted into an electric signal via the transducer which then can be analyzed into meaningful data. [9]

A Brief History

The first biosensor was developed in 1962 by Leland Clark Jr. He wanted to measure the oxygen concentration in blood using an electrode. He covered the electrode with a cellophane wrap, a semipermeable polymer which only allows low weight molecules such as oxygen to pass through [11], to achieve this. He further developed his invention by trapping high concentration glucose oxidase enzyme within another membrane, which converts glucose to D-glucono-δ-lactone and hydrogen peroxide when oxygen is present, it is also considered the ideal biomaterial for biosensors [12], thus the first biosensor was created. [10] Biosensors used in the food industry still use this principle to measure the glucose content in products. [13] Thanks to the advances in nanotechnology and synthetic biology, modern biosensors can be implanted to an organism and the biomaterial can be very specific such as a synthetic protein or a genetically engineered microorganism that is programmed to generate very specific outputs with specific selectivity to the desired analyte. [14]

Applications

The Future of Biosensors

Research into biosensors are towards increasing their reliability, sensitivity and selectivity. [19] In the future we can wearable biosensors can assist people by giving them access access to a mobile dashboard which tells them if they are at risk of disease and can help them make healthy decisions in their daily lives. We can also see usage of biosensors in environmental control, for example a biosensor can alert the owner if their pool is contaminated or their air-conditioning unit has the presence of pathogens. Biosensors are also used in cancer research and in development of effective drugs. [27]

Brain-Computer Interfaces

Privacy of Health Data

Although wearable technologies (WT) have brought many advantages differing in various areas, security vulnerabilities are still one of the major concerns. Debates are not for nothing because it has been shown in an HP research that the most preferred 10 smartwatches have some significant security vulnerabilities, including poor authentication, lack of encryption and privacy issues.[27]. The most noticeable concerns about the security of WT are insufficient authentications and danger of the information that will be seized.

Figure 5: Smart watch health applications [29]
Figure 6: Domains and open source [31].

References:

[1] R. Mola, “Super Helmet,” Air & Space Magazine, 22-Aug-2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/super-helmet-180964342/. [Accessed: 07-Dec-2020].

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Koç Üniversitesi Bilim Kulübü

Koç Üniversitesi Bilim Kulübü

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