Georgia Tech Develops Sensor System to Research Health Impacts of Blasts
When a bomb explodes, it sets in motion high impact waves, which alone can cause damage to people or even solid structures nearby. First comes the blast wave, or over-pressurized air that travels away from the explosion faster than the speed of sound. After a blast wave hits a body, it sends shockwaves through organs and tissues.
Scientists at the Georgia Tech Research Institute have recently developed sensors to help better understand the effects that blasts have on soldiers. Think lightweight, wearable health devices but for combat situations.
“Because of improved equipment and medical services, people are surviving severe explosions. Yet we lack a clear understanding of blast-induced injuries on the human nervous system,” GTRI Principal Research Scientist Shean Phelps, MD, said in a press release. Of particular interest to researchers is the effect that shockwaves have on the brain.
Members of the GTRI team plan to take the data collected from these sensors and correlate them with long-term health conditions. The platform they’ve created will allow them to compare traumatic brain injury patients and the types of impacts they have encountered in the past.
The researchers developed a system called the Integrated Blast Effect Sensor Suite. IBESS involves two subsystems including sensors worn by soldiers as well as a unit located on the interior of a vehicle.
A total of four wearable sensors sit on the inside and outside of a soldier’s armor. In order to make sure that the sensors are as unburdensome to soldiers as possible, the creators put a lot of consideration into how to make them lightweight and battery efficient. In order to save battery life, the body sensor remains in sleep mode until a shock wave activates data collection.
The sensors collect linear acceleration and angular rotation information and time-tag it in order to create a data-filled account of what happened. The vehicle unit measures how the vehicle was affected, and it also identifies where a soldier is located at the time of the blast. A computer aggregates data from both sources and then passes it on to a rugged black box.
IBESS’s were shipped to areas of conflict overseas starting August 2012, and the system has already been used by more than 650 troops. Researchers hope to soon add more capabilities to the system, such as the ability to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen and hydration levels. They also plan to explore other use cases for the technology.
“The potential civilian applications for technology such as this are tremendous. And they are not restricted just to environmental extremes or people who are performing physical activities,” Phelps said in a video interview. GTRI suggested the system could be adopted for use by construction workers, race car drivers, or even the elderly at home.