Filed under: Technology
The U.S. Army has developed a device that will not only reduce the number of amputations but will help severely injured Warfighters return to duty. In the past, Warfighters with crushed and battered legs faced amputation or, at best, dysfunction due to pain and weakness. Now, with the introduction of the U.S. Army’s newest orthotic technology, amputations and decreased mobility may be a thing of the past for some.
The Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO) is the latest orthotic technology designed for Warfighters whose legs were crushed in combat. It uses technology similar to that of prosthetics worn by amputees and is higher in user satisfaction and performance compared with other braces available. Unlike other braces, IDEO does not depend on ankle movement, so Warfighters with fused ankle bones, where function is limited, can use them with little pain. With each step, IDEO stores energy and transfers it to the back of the brace, which springs the leg forward (similar to running-blade prosthetics). This allows the wearer to continue rebuilding the muscles in his or her leg while also working on functional movement.
In a study conducted by the Center for the Intrepid, eight of ten patients fitted with IDEO were able to run at least two miles without stopping. All ten Warfighters returned to weightlifting, many returned to playing sports or participating in mini-triathlons, and three returned to combat—two with Special Forces and one Army Ranger. The published report emphasized that the success of these patients was due not only to the innovative IDEO but also to the intense rehabilitation program and—most important—the motivation and drive of the individuals.
In combination with rehabilitation programs, IDEO looks like the newest in a wave of innovations that will help Warfighters return to normal function. If you are interested in learning more about IDEO and other innovative rehabilitation programs, please visit the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research and the Brooke Army Medical Center’s Center for the Intrepid.
Are you or is a service member you know going through rehab for an injury? Well it should be a comfort to know that there are people out there working hard to make sure you/they receive the best and most advanced forms of therapy and technology during rehab. The Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research (CRSR) is headquartered at the Uniformed Services University, in Bethesda, MD, and their goals are to find solutions for improving rehabilitative care for injured service members and promote successful return to duty and reintegration. Most of their research is focused in the areas of orthopedic trauma, limb loss, and neurological complications, but they’re not working alone. Their expert team of researchers is partnered with other military medical facilities across the country, and they are committed to educating and training future healthcare providers within the military healthcare system. Visit the CRSR website to learn more about their current research, publications, and events.
In 2013, the Research Institute of Chicago (RIC) presented the first mind-controlled bionic leg, thanks to support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command's (USAMRMC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC). Until now, this technology was only available for prosthetic arms. These brainy bionic legs are still being studied and perfected, but it’s hoped that they will be available in the next few years. This life-changing technology will be able to help the more than 1,600 service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations. Bionic limbs will make the transition to active duty or civilian life smoother for wounded warriors.
In one case study, a civilian who lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident underwent a procedure called “Targeted Muscle Re-innervation”. This procedure redirects nerves that originally went to muscles in the amputated limb to still-healthy muscles in the limb above the amputation. As these healthy muscles contract, they generate signals that are detected by sensors within the prosthetic and analyzed by a specially-designed computer chip and program The program rapidly decodes the type of movement the individual is preparing to do, such as bending the knee, and then sends those commands to the leg. This allows the person to walk up and down ramps and stairs and transition between activities without stopping. The user also can move (reposition) the bionic leg just by thinking about it, which is not possible with current motorized prosthetics.
The bionic leg is also showing a decreased rate of falling and quicker response time. Stay tuned for availability of this groundbreaking technology.
[Image Source: RIC/NWU]
If you’re in the military, your smartphone may have just gotten smarter. Researchers have recently developed hardware and software that enables teams with Android smartphones to locate nearby snipers. Acoustic sensors have been developed and used by the military in the past, but this portable attachment hooks up to a smartphone and uses microphone sensors to triangulate a sniper’s location through muzzle blasts and shockwaves. Other sniper sensors have been developed, such as the helmet-mounted sensor back in 2007 that is the predecessor to this smartphone system. According to one source, the Army has plans to send soldiers to Afghanistan with smartphone technology that will allow them to communicate—even text—more effectively out in the field. As smartphones find their way into combat, this kind of technology shows great promise for the near future.
Test dummies are commonly used in the military for training and first aid exercises. Recently, the Pentagon has been working on finding a “human surrogate” for use in testing an array of non-lethal weapons. Modern technology equips these dummies with human-like internal and external organs as well as sensors capable of gathering information about how a person might react to such weapons. Current weapons that use stimuli such as heat, pain, and noise would be tested on these dummies rather than on live human subjects, with the goal of eliminating permanent damage while optimizing effectiveness. Other information collected would help scientists continue to build better models. Non-lethal weapons are often used for crowd-control purposes, so this technology would also benefit law enforcement, which commonly uses such systems.
Developing technology in order to save the lives of those who serve is vitally important. To that end, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) recently received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Army to develop monitoring sensors that will be able to detect blood loss early, which may help save lives on the battlefield. WPI will partner with the University of Massachusetts Medical School to create wireless sensors that can be worn on the body to detect blood loss, body movement, and posture. They will also be working to combine that information with smartphone technology that medics can use as a handheld diagnostic device in rapid-response situations.
The future of Warfighter technology may someday include a high-tech “performance underwear” bodysuit that will protect soldiers from injuries, monitor vitals, and help soldiers maintain body energy while on the battlefield. This, according to an article in Wired.com, is what DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) hopes to one day accomplish. DARPA describes this so-called performance underwear concept as being an “adaptive, compliant, nearly transparent, quasi-active joint support suit,” which can “mitigate musculoskeletal injury caused by discrete dynamic events while maintaining soldier performance.” According to the official solicitation notice, the “DARPA Warrior Web program…will develop the technologies required to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries caused by dynamic events typically found in the Warfighter's environment. This will be accomplished by a system (or web) of structures, in the form of a skin-suit, that are compliant and transparent until injury-causing conditions activate appropriate changes in the web structure.”
Sounds good…except there is one catch: Right now, military technology of this caliber doesn’t exist. The Wired article indicates that DARPA plans to introduce its future performance tool this month to a meeting of potential researchers. Their goal? To find a company that might be able to create a compliant, Warfighter-wearable, quasi-passive, adaptive suit system that can reduce injuries and retain optimal warrior performance.