The advancement of wearable technology and the growing demand from consumers to take control of their own health has influenced the medical industry. Wearable devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches can collect the wearer’s health data, such as heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, sleep patterns, and physical activity. These devices can even send a patient’s health information to a doctor or other healthcare professional in real time.
Now, researchers are looking to harness this data to detect biological and chemical warfare threats that members of Australia’s military face in the line of duty.
Researchers at the University of South Australia are leading the world-first project to determine whether smartwatches and wearable devices could give the Australian military the edge when it comes to protecting defense personnel against biological and chemical warfare threats. For this project, researchers teamed up with Australia’s Department of Defence, industry partner Insight Via Artificial Intelligence, and the University of Adelaide.
The project aims to develop data pipelines and use groundbreaking algorithms to monitor the health of military personnel, instigating early treatment for infections where necessary and ensuring people working in the armed forces are fit for duty.
“Most diagnostic methods involve sampling blood or nasal fluid to detect pathogens responsible for infections,” lead researcher UniSA Professor Siobhan Banks says. “This approach is costly, time-consuming, and requires a laboratory for analysis. Consumer wearable devices continuously measure vital signs, including heart rate, skin temperature, and sleep, creating huge sets of data for each person. Changes in these parameters occur very quickly after infection as part of the immune response.”
For many viruses, infections only become apparent once symptoms occur. But the data from wearable devices could flag physiological and behavioral changes much quicker. The off-the-shelf consumer wearables contain sophisticated sensors that could be easily deployed to continuously collect thousands of hours of data at a low cost and low burden.
“What if we could make use of this passively recorded data to detect the earliest molecular and cellular physiological events caused by pathogen exposure, even prior to active infection?”
Researchers plan to develop statistical machine learning algorithms to detect early signs of infection in a person, using data from consumer wearable devices. The project will use a cloud service that links to wearable devices and a smartphone application, recognizing irregular sensor readings so that people can be clustered based on their health profiles.
The UniSA-led project could potentially enhance Defence capability in warfare, including early detection of chemical or biological threats.
The project is contributing to the Department of Defence’s “Operating in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Environments” STaR Shot (OCE STaR Shot). Under its Human Integrated Sensor System program, the OCE STaR Shot is developing and demonstrating the concepts and technologies that can turn the human body into a sensor for CBRN threats, including infectious diseases.