Device measures blast impact to assist wounded soldiers

A new device for measuring the impact of explosions could help in the treatment of soldiers injured by roadside bombs.

The device is around the size of a wrist watch and captures blast data, including pressure, resulting head acceleration and time, which can be downloaded after an incident and passed to medics.

‘While the core technology exists, the challenge is customising the capabilities through creative engineering and integrating the components into a single system that provides a practical solution for the military,’ said David Borkholder, an engineer at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) who led the team that designed the device.

When a solider is exposed to a blast, shockwaves can cause a series of complex mechanical and physical reactions in the brain. These blast waves can induce tissue strains and stress, which may result in brain damage. Currently, no experimental data for humans exists to correlate pressure and stress on the brain with an actual explosive event that could assist with predicting brain injury.

With funding from the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the RIT team aimed to develop a solution.

To provide information for field triage and long-term care, the blast gauge measures pressure, +/-axis head acceleration and logs the time of the event.

Because the characteristics of a blast depend on the explosive itself, the physical environment and orientation of the soldier, which can result in reflected waves, the team developed integrated analysis algorithms.

’Being able to collect this information continuously and at fast enough speeds was no trivial task,’ said Borkholder.

After an incident, three LED lights provide exposure information to the soldier while a micro-USB port allows a field medic the ability to download the data.

The device was recently tested in the field using propane and oxygen explosions and weighted crash-test dummies to simulate a soldier.

The research has resulted in the formation of a company, BlackBox Biometric, which plans to commercialise the device in 2011.

’To equip a mass of deployed soldiers, each carrying significant weight, it is critical the device be lightweight and disposable,’ Borkholder said.