New Helmet Sensor to detect Traumatic Brain Injuries

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BAE Systems unveiled its latest concussion sensor for soldier helmets, named Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic System (“HEADS”).  Reportedly, about 7,000 1st generation sensors have already been installed in helmets of U.S. military warriors.   The new devices feature much more effective reporting capabilities that will hopefully help in getting medical attention quicker to those that need it.

The HEADS smart sensor is also designed to provide medical professionals with important data that may help determine the severity of a possible traumatic brain injury (“TBI”). The second generation HEADS sensor reportedly provides medical teams with a valuable diagnostic tool that utilizes radio frequency technology.   Spokesperson Colman claims that “With our new ‘smarter’ sensor, if a soldier is exposed to a blast, possibly sustaining a concussion, not only will the HEADS visual LED display be triggered at the time of the event, but once the soldier enters a specified area, such as forward operating base or dining facility, a series of strategically placed antennae will scan all available HEADS units and send data to a computer, identifying any soldiers who may have sustained a blast-related brain injury.”

The sensor itself is small, lightweight and can be secured inside virtually any combat helmet. Although imperceptible to the wearer, it is designed to continuously collect critical, potentially lifesaving data, including impact direction, magnitude, duration, blast pressures, angular and linear accelerations as well as the exact times of single or multiple blast events. That information is then securely stored until it can be quickly downloaded and analyzed by medical teams using a simple USB or wireless connection.

Compatible with most helmets, the HEADS sensor is unobtrusive and won’t interfere with additional helmet-mounted equipment soldiers may need, such as goggles and other sensors.

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BAE Helmet Sensor Contract a Step in the Right Direction

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BAE Systems has received an initial order of $17 million from the U.S. Army for Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic Systems (“HEADS”) to help address combat-related traumatic brain injuries(“TBI”), which according to many medical professionals are becoming a signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.   BAE is one of two military contractors who has received such a contract with a maximum contract award value of $105 million.

According to the news release, the HEAD’s sensor system is “designed to better monitor soldiers and help identify their risk levels for combat-related TBIs, BAE Systems introduced its HEADS sensor to the military in 2008. Since then, nearly 7,000 of the company’s HEADS units have been fielded to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps . . .”

While this appears to be good news given the increased media focus on TBI-related injuries, it would be most useful if the DOD could share information with the public on the data it collected over the last two years based on the 7,000 units that have already been fielded.  Presumably, there is enough information from this sample testing to award a $105 million contract.  SFTT makes this simple request, since Dr. Charles Hoge, the U.S. Army’s senior mental health researcher at Walter Reed Hospital from 2002 to 2009 and now advisor to the Army Surgeon General, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post in which he effectively dismissed the idea that there might be lingering effects from mild traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).

Is Dr. Hodge yet another case of a military spokesperson “sugar-coating” or “quibbling” over the effects of traumatic brain injury because of improper helmet design or is there something more sinister the military leadership is hiding?  Why the sudden rush to extend the use of sensors to track TBI?   With the recent recall of military helmets and Dr. Hodge’s lame defense of troops with “mild” TBI, one suspects that there is strong reason to be concerned that our troops don’t have the “proper” headgear and are not likely to have any too soon since the new HEAD’s sensors won’t be available until July, 2011.   While this may allow us to treat TBI injuries more quickly, it does little to determine whether our troops have the best available headgear.

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