The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is extending the testing of its Blast Gauge that measures the abrupt pressure and acceleration changes a soldier is exposed to in the event of a exposure to a blast. These external forces can result in traumatic brain injury (TBI), an often invisible injury that can cause a host of physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral effects. DARPA’s Blast Gauge is designed to provide medics with quantitative data to better identify those at risk of TBI so as to provide better treatment.
While we’ve seen other devices, such as the “Blast Badge,” designed to indicate the strength of exposure to blasts, battlefield medical personnel still rely on visual signs and accounts from the patient when evaluating the risk of TBI. To investigate the potential for the Blast Gauge to provide medical personnel with a better way to assess the potential for blast-related injuries, DARPA last year began the first phase of pilot testing of the Blast Gauge with around 900 Army brigade-level soldiers in an active combat role. This gradually expanded to more than 6,400 warfighters in a variety of units across the U.S. Military using the device. DARPA is now entering phase II of the pilot program that aims to double that number over the next month.
The Blast Gauge is a small self-contained device designed to be worn at the base of the skull, below the soldier’s helmet. It contains a microprocessor and sensors that give it the capability to capture the abrupt changes in pressure and acceleration associated with blasts. Inbuilt software stores relevant events with data able to be downloaded via the device’s micro-USB port, while red, green and yellow status lights on the device indicate the level of blast exposure at a glance. While the device itself doesn’t diagnose a TBI, it does help ensure that a soldier receives the relevant care, even if they downplay their symptoms.
“DARPA Blast Gauge provides doctors with information on what their patient actually experienced during an exposure.” said Jeff Rogers, DARPA program manager. “After a blast, medics check a wristwatch-sized device displaying a green, yellow or red status light to indicate the relative risk of injury. This is an entirely new capability and has already helped medics and doctors in treating injured warfighters.”
The Blast Gauge was developed over an 11 month period at a cost of around US$1 million. Each device costs $45 to produce and the data they gather will also help the Army to gain a better understanding of TBI.