Data-collecting device could make for better training of soldiers

The device could help military commanders provide more realistic training scenarios and better understand how soldiers will react before sending them into war.
By James LaPorta  |  Updated Dec. 1, 2017 at 1:44 PM
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ORLANDO, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The Greek poet Archilochus, before his death, said people "don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training."

A device displayed at a defense industry conference this week could help military commanders provide more realistic training scenarios and better understand how soldiers will react before sending them into war, according to the company that makes it -- helping commanders and their soldiers perform better under the stresses of military missions.

Design Interactive, an Orlando-based company that specializes in metric-driven data on behavioral, physiological and neurophysiological techniques, has designed a device to help commanders determine if training scenarios are putting adequate, and appropriate, levels of stress on their soldiers.

The device, shown off this week at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Fla., can objectively measure the stress of individual users in real-time, say its designers.

Dr. Brent Winslow, chief scientist at Design Interactive, developed the operational stress index, or OSI, which captures physiological measures of stress such as blood volume pulse and salivary cortisol, as well as electrodermal activity, which measures sweat glands on different parts of the skin as a person moves and acts.

During tests of OSI to verify its accuracy, participants underwent situations that evoked stress responses from individuals, said Christina K. Padron, a senior research associate at the company.

"What we found has proven to be over 95 percent accurate, in terms of measuring an individual's current stress level when compared to a previously established baseline in real-time," Padron told UPI.

"That stress data is then visualized on compatible mobile, web and desktop applications, so a commander can actually see in real time if his or her training scenarios are providing the warfighter with enough stress while they are being graded on their decision-making abilities."

Padron said commanders can use the data to enhance training scenarios for their troops. The wearable physiological sensors make it easier to identify how troops respond to situations and determine if they can handle the rigors of combat as they make leadership decisions on the fly, such as during a firefight.

The patented software by Design Interactive has already gained some interest from U.S. military combat units, the company says.

At the U.S. Marine Corps Infantry Small Unit Leader's Course, which trains Marines to lead and deploy squads of 12 infantrymen, OSI measurements predicted individual stress resilience, including the impact stress had on physiological reactivity and performance, according to the company.

The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Navy have also started to use OSI during live fire training to measure the surge in stress while firing a weapon. Ideally, the less physical stress a shooter has while firing, the more accurate shot a shooter will take.

The Department of Veteran's Affairs has even started using the software for treatment of cognitive behavioral therapy. Data collected by Design Interactive suggests that patients who used OSI were less likely to discontinue therapy and showed significant improvement on measures of stress, anxiety and anger compared to those undergoing standard CBT.

Scott Christian, a spokesman for the company, wrote in a blog post that there has also been interest in using the software within wellness programs meant to prevent nurses from burning out.

"[Design Interactive] is now using the OSI in many other efforts, including to support the creation of validated training scenarios for first responders and the military," Christian said.

"Trainers in these domains must prepare trainees for the stress to be encountered in operational environments. The OSI will help to ensure that the training scenarios, both virtual and live, are evoking a realistic stress response and ultimately best prepare trainees."

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