The heavy loads that soldiers carry on the battlefield — including more than 20 pounds of body armor — often lead to fatigue and injuries. Technology is now being developed that may allow troops to better distribute their loads so they’re more comfortable.
Researchers at Pennsylvania-based KDH Defense Systems say the solution may be a high-tech vest that is outfitted with sensors to identify areas of the body that bear the brunt of the loads.
The company has been working with Philadelphia University on the project, which is funded by the Air Force. The final vest design likely will include a torso strap that would have a looser fit than standard body armor vests.
Researchers declined to provide other details, as the vests are still being developed. Military officials have already worn prototypes, and a final design should be ready by 2011, says Project Manager Jeff Payne.
“This vest-carriage system could lead to less fatigue, less vertebrae, neck and shoulder issues,” he says. “It will be more comfortable and have a better center of gravity.”
Students at Philadelphia University have been the project’s guinea pigs, wearing pressure sensors and vests as they run, jump and crawl. The sensors, designed by Jason Blume of Sensor Products Inc., are embedded in pads that wrap around the students’ torsos, chests, necks and shoulders.
The more than 1,500 sensors send data to a computer that produces a map of the wearer’s body, showing how pressure changes with movement. The vests apply the same amount of weight to a larger portion of the body, Blume says.
Evan Goldman, a biology professor at Philadelphia University who has been involved in the project for two years, says the vests are not as hot as standard military garments. “It better disperses the heat load,” he says. “We’ve had real military people wear the vest, and they’re blown away — they’re amazed by how much better it feels.”
The cost of the vest depends on which features military officials include in the final design. “It might not cost much more than the current body armor,” Goldman says.