U.S. Department of Defense invests in wearable technology for rapid disease prediction

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) joined forces with the private sector and developed a wearable device to identify infections. The success of this technology during the pandemic has led the Defense Department to explore new infectious disease detection measures to aid in readiness. Jeff Schneider, program manager for the Rapid Assessment of Threat Exposure (RATE) project, said that the Department will be using commercial wearables to monitor service members’ health and provide early alerts to potential infections before they spread.

The RATE project relies on a predictive artificial intelligence algorithm that was trained using hospital-acquired data from monitored cases of COVID-19. The algorithm leverages biometric data from commercial off-the-shelf wearables, which enabled early detection of infectious diseases up to 48 hours before symptoms manifested. In some cases, infections were predicted up to six days prior to onset, including asymptomatic cases. The efficacy of the algorithm-powered wearables was featured in a study published by Nature’s Scientific Reports, highlighting the potential of these technologies to aid military readiness.

The Defense Department has allocated $10 million in additional funds for the RATE program, allowing it to build on its 2020-21 success, which demonstrated that wearable technology could predict COVID-19 and other infections prior to diagnostic testing. DIU will also be adding 4,500 more users across the department, including Air Combat Command’s first sergeants, who will be issued wearables to better gauge their overall health and vital signs.

Philips, a technology company, is collaborating with the RATE project in algorithm development and has expanded its efforts on a global scale to accelerate commercialization and scaling. Navin Natoewal, head of integrated technology solutions at Philips, noted that because the algorithm is device agnostic, it can use biomarker data from any commercial-grade, off-the-shelf wearable. The RATE project aims to add three additional popular wearable devices and allow previous users to re-affiliate with the project.

The Food and Drug Administration has classified RATE as a general wellness device. Schneider said that this funding provides a bridge that allows the Department to leverage this emerging technology within a program of record, filling critical capability gaps while improving the overall health and wellness of service members. This technology will enhance the readiness of the workforce to conduct essential missions, especially in the face of unpredictable variables like infectious diseases.

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