MILITARY MATTERS: Engineers Building Smart Helmets for Soldiers to Help Prevent Head Injuries

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 7:07 PM EDT
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HOUSTON, Tx. (WTVM) - More than 430,000 U.S. service members were diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury in the last 20 years. Now, there’s action being taken to modernize their helmets, to save lives on the battlefield.

While many of us watch the action of war unfold on the big screen in movies like “Black Hawk Down,” Kaz Karwowski lived through it on the ground in Somalia during a firefight between U.S. troops and armed fighters.

“In Black Hawk Down, the person to my left of me got hurt. the person to my right got hurt. i happened to just be in the right place at the right time at that point,” Army veteran Karwowski said.

But one-third of soldiers have suffered concussions or worse during combat. That’s why engineers at Rice University are working on the first printable smart helmet.

Paul Cherukuri PHD with the Rice Univ. Institute of Bioengineering said, “We employed the carbon printer to be able to print a very lightweight, strong material and then integrate our electronics into it.”

By using a 3D printed nano-material exoskelton, each helmet can be customized for the needs of each fighter.

“You can have an area that squishes very easily, or you can have more reinforcement in a specific area, and then, that is more firm,” Rice University lead design engineer Grant Belton said.

The latice structure allows computers with health sensors, infrared cameras, and thermal maps to be built right into the helmet.

“So, if there is anything approaching the soldier that is a threat, the helmet will tell you that,” Cherukuri added.

The sensors, like those used now in the NFL, can tell not only if the person has suffered a concussion, but also, how severe it is. And that’s just the beginning.

“So, this is the google glass. This is the actual augmented reality display. I can actually see everybody’s thermal profiles,” Rice University electrical engineer Mac Carr said.

4 cameras give a 360 degree infrared view. Artificial intelligence can detect threats and is capable of launching countermeasures.

“It’s the future. and we’re trying to bring it forward,” Cherukuri said.

All of the cameras and sensors will fit inside a normal sized helmet. for now, the helmet is a prototype, but they hope the technology will be ready for testing in the field by the end of the year.