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Wearable Devices and AI Enhance Defence Capabilities

Smartwatches and wearable devices have the potential to provide a significant advantage to the military in safeguarding defence personnel from biological and chemical warfare hazards.

The University of South Australia, in collaboration with the Department of Defence, an industry partner, and the University of Adelaide, is leading a groundbreaking project that aims to enhance the capabilities of smartwatches and wearable devices by leveraging artificial intelligence. This project aims to enable continuous monitoring of vital signs, taking a significant step forward in the field.

As part of the project, the research team is focused on the development of statistical machine-learning algorithms specifically designed to detect early indications of infection in individuals. This pioneering approach uses data collected from consumer wearable devices, harnessing the potential of these devices to provide valuable insights and early warning signs related to infections.

Conventional diagnostic techniques typically involve the collection of blood or nasal fluid samples to identify disease-causing pathogens, which can be expensive, time-consuming, and reliant on laboratory analysis. In contrast, consumer wearable devices offer the advantage of continuously monitoring vital signs such as heart rate, skin temperature, and sleep patterns, generating extensive datasets for each individual. These parameters exhibit rapid changes following infection as a result of the immune response.

In numerous viral infections, symptoms typically manifest only after the infection has taken hold. However, wearable devices have the potential to detect physiological and behavioural alterations at an earlier stage, providing valuable insights.

The research team highlights that commercially available consumer wearables are equipped with advanced sensors, enabling the collection of vast amounts of continuous data at a minimal cost and with little burden. This capability makes them highly suitable for deployment in monitoring and detecting early signs of infections.

The project aims to leverage the passively recorded data from wearable devices to identify the earliest molecular and cellular physiological changes associated with pathogen exposure, even before the onset of active infection.

As part of the initiative, a cloud service will be developed to connect with wearable devices, along with a smartphone application. This integrated system will utilise advanced algorithms to detect irregular sensor readings, allowing individuals to be categorised based on their unique health profiles.

The Chief Defence Scientist acknowledged that the project led by UniSA has the potential to significantly enhance Defence capabilities in warfare, particularly by enabling early detection of chemical or biological threats.

The project aligns with the Department of Defence’s “Operating in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Environments” STaR Shot (OCE STaR Shot) initiative. Within the Human Integrated Sensor System program of the OCE STaR Shot, the project aims to develop and showcase concepts and technologies that utilize the human body as a sensor for detecting CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) threats, including infectious diseases.

The research is supported by the Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Defence Science and Technology Group of the Department of Defence, as well as the Defence Artificial Intelligence Research Network (DAIRNet).

The collaboration between the University of South Australia, the Department of Defence, an industry partner, and the University of Adelaide highlights the promising potential of smartwatches and wearable devices in enhancing military capabilities.

Through the development of advanced algorithms and leveraging the continuous monitoring capabilities of consumer wearables, this groundbreaking project aims to detect early indications of infection, providing valuable insights and timely warnings. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and utilising the human body as a sensor, this research holds great promise for safeguarding defence personnel from biological and chemical warfare threats.

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