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    The U.S. Army Wants Wearable Tech That Detects COVID-19

    Photo: U.S. Army
    The U.S. Military wants a wearable that can detect if the wearer has been infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus. The project is worth $25 million and is being spearheaded by a consortium consisting of universities, industry, and the U.S. Army. A device that detects COVID-19 infection would allow the military to quickly quarantine those who test positive, limiting the spread of the virus.

    The U.S. Military wants a wearable electronic sentry, designed to warn any wearer that he or she has been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. The device would unobtrusively monitor a person’s vital signs and check for telltale symptoms of the coronavirus. While obviously of benefit to practically anyone, the Pentagon is particularly interested in the device to keep its personnel healthy and units fully operational in the midst of a pandemic.

    The project is being overseen by the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium, which describes itself as an “enterprise partnership in collaboration with industry and academia to facilitate research and development activities, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) and other DoD agencies in the biomedical sciences.” A nonprofit corporation, MTEC’s mission is to “protect, treat and optimize the health and performance of U.S. military personnel.”

    MTEC just released a Request for Proposal (RfP) to industry for a wearable device designed to detect the early stages of the coronavirus. The RfP is basically a global announcement that the military wants some new technology or capability and wants proposals back from industry on how they would supply it. MTEC is prepared to award a $25 million grant to the company with the proposal it likes best, which would then be used to further development of the idea.

    The RfP explains, “There is a dire and urgent need for development of rapid, accurate, wearable diagnostics to identify and isolate pre-symptomatic COVID-19 cases and track/prevent the spread of the virus.” The device should be comfortable enough to wear continuously, like a Fitbit. MTEC suggests the device could monitor, “physiological markers of early COVID symptomology (elevated temperature / fever, respiratory difficulty / cough, etc.), antibodies against COVID 19, and molecular biomarkers indicative of COVID 19 exposure”.

    The goal, according to the consortium, is the “physiologic surveillance” of a population—in this case the U.S. Military. Presumably the device will not just alert the wearer if signs of an infection takes place but his or her chain of command. This would allow the wearer’s unit to quickly isolate the individual to prevent further spread of the disease. Early warning would also allow more effective contact tracing. Proposals for the project are due as of June 1, 2020, with the winner given nine months to produce a usable device.

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