WASHINGTON – The dog tag is getting a techno upgrade, and a small Rockville company is in the running to put its ramped-up version around American soldiers’ necks.
InHand Electronics Inc. is one of three companies that recently won a $100,000 Army contract to design and test electronic dog tags that can store soldiers’ personal and medical records. The wireless tags would let medics get that information in the battlefield and record any treatment back to the tag for later downloading in a hospital — all without touching the tag itself.
Designers said the technology exists, but it needs to work in a dog tag that is “rugged enough that you can throw it into my cup of coffee, take it out 30 minutes later, and have it work,” in the words of one Army official.
“The technology is out there right now, but to be perfectly honest, we know this is going to be incredibly challenging,” said InHand CEO Andrew Girson.
The smart dog tag project aims to eventually replace the oblong metal plate that soldiers have worn into combat since World War II.
It would also streamline the current, fragmented process of treating injured soldiers. Soldiers are now moved from the front lines to field hospitals and sometimes to hospitals in different countries with their injuries and medications written on a paper card that is attached by wire to a buttonhole on their clothes, said Maj. Tim Rapp of the Army Medical Service Corps.
“It hasn’t changed much in 50 years. The only difference is the wire used to be a string,” Rapp said.
In some cases, medics scribble crucial medical information on the soldiers themselves, he said.
“They would write the letter ‘M’ on a guy’s forehead with a marker. They would do it so the folks in the rear know this guy was given morphine,” Rapp said.
The smart dog tag is part of a larger Army effort to allow continual monitoring of a soldier’s physical status and position. Eventually, commanders and medical personnel will look on their laptops and know if “Private Jones’ blood pressure is dropping,” said Rapp, adding that the new dog tag is “basically a micro-Webserver around your neck.”
But it is a micro-Webserver that must withstand shock, extreme temperatures, high altitude and slogs through the mud.
An early version, that is not wireless, is currently being tested by an Army Special Forces unit in Iraq. Some of those devices have already corroded and failed, Rapp said.
That is a problem InHand hopes to solve, Girson said. But more than durability, he said, the greatest challenge facing InHand is making the dog tag small, wireless and maintenance-free.
“We are looking for something that the soldier doesn’t have to say ‘Oh, yeah. I forgot change my battery,'” Girson said.
The Army will choose one or two winning designs in six months, and Rapp said it plans to field test a prototype within a year.
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