A sensor developed by a team of researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory is worn much like a bandage and can tell if the wearer is in the early stages of dehydration or heat stress, two medical problems common in solders who are exercising or on a mission. The team, dubbed the STRONG team (for Signature Tracking for Optimized Nutrition and Training), working with the University of Cincinnati, has already built a prototype and tested it on humans.
The sensor detects biomarkers in the user’s sweat, and those markers can include electrolytes, metabolites, amino acids, and proteins. It outputs results through a smart-phone app, making the device easy to use and manufacture. And unlike other methods of getting this information, there is no need for a needle stick or any invasive procedure, so it is completely safe.
The sensor will undergo further testing when several of them are worn on participants in this year’s Air Force Marathon.
The team is working on an advanced version of the sensor, one that detects blood lactate levels, a surrogate for physical exhaustion, and other markers for stress and fatigue. It is also looking at connecting the sensor to active devices. So, for example, if the sensor determines the wearer is in the early stages of heat stress, it can switch on a cooling device. Or if a solider needs salt or ketones, they can be automatically administered. The Air Force will likely test these sensors on soldiers undergoing training before it begins using them on troops in the field.