Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)—often a problem for military personnel, due to their frequent exposure to blasts—have long stumped medical researchers, neurologists, and other clinicians.
Unlike other injuries, TBIs often have no immediate symptoms, so they
can go undetected until it’s too late for them to be treated effectively.
But if medical personnel could better detect when soldiers have been
subjected to potentially damaging shockwaves, they might be able to
limit further exposure and decrease the soldiers’ risk of developing TBIs.
Today, a wearable device created from a collaborative effort between
Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI) and BlackBox Biometics is providing
real-time data on blast effects. The Blast Gauge System measures
exposures that could put soldiers (and others) at risk for a TBI long
before its physical and cognitive symptoms surface.
Blast Gauge can quickly and accurately indicate when, and how
severely, soldiers have been exposed to harmful shockwaves. That
information helps medical personnel determine whether and when
soldiers should return to the ;eld—and helps reduce their risk
Better Detecting Wartime’s ‘Signature Wounds’
TBIs are often called the “signature wounds” for soldiers stationed
in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the pervasive use of improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) by enemy forces in those countries. According
to the Defense Medical Military System, nearly 348,000 active U.S.
military personnel suffered TBIs between 2000 and the ;rst quarter
of 2016. However, these numbers don’t include the growing number
of veterans diagnosed with TBIs years after their initial exposure to
Large explosions aren’t the only threat, however; multiple smaller hits can
also cause brain injuries. For example, “breachers”—soldiers who knock
down doors and other obstacles, often using explosives—are routinely
exposed to smaller blasts. “Recent research has shown that our service
members are subjected to really signi;cant repetitive blast exposures,”
explains BlackBox Biometrics founder and CTO David Borkholder.
Black Box Biometrics developed Blast Gauge with assistance from ADI,
whose technology contributed signi;cantly to the device’s design and
Founded in 2011, BlackBox Biometrics focuses on developing wearable
devices that measure blast “overpressure,” the rapid pressure change
and multiple shockwaves generated by IEDs, artillery, shoulder-;red
rockets, and explosives.
Produced by MIT Technology Review Custom in partnership with Analog Devices, Inc.
WAY TO IDENTIFY
SOLDIERS AT RISK
Sensors worn in three locations—
helmet, shoulder, and chest—collect
data that helps medical personnel
monitor soldiers’ exposure to blast
levels that could lead to TBIs.