Better dog tags in works

Wireless: InHand Electronics of Rockville is competing to develop a durable, wireless dog tag that would store a soldier's medical records.

High Tech Warfare

May 18, 2004|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

The rugged piece of metal worn around the necks of soldiers, Marines, SEALS and other military personnel - better known as the dog tag - is undergoing a high-tech overhaul.

Rockville-based InHand Electronics Inc. is working with the military to develop a wireless dog tag that stores a soldier's medical records, can run for five or 10 years on a battery and can withstand sweat, dirt, grime and the rugged outdoors.

"That ... is a tremendous challenge," said Andrew D. Girson, chief executive of InHand.

The idea is to have a soldier's medical information - blood type, allergies, medication, X-rays, medical history and current treatment - on a device that is about the size of a dog tag and worn around the neck.

The information could be read by a wireless hand-held device, which would save time in the field since medics wouldn't have to dig past flak jackets and clothing to get at the critical information.

"I think it certainly has the potential to" save lives, said Maj. Timothy Rapp, chief of the Information Technology Engineering Division at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at Fort Detrick in Frederick.

One battlefield challenge is treating wounded and injured soldiers quickly and correctly. As they are moved to the rear it is crucial that medical personnel know what care has been given.

Medics currently fill out a field medical card, which looks something like a parking ticket a policeman might write. It documents the treatment and other critical information and is wired to the soldier's uniform. It is virtually the same system used in World War II, Rapp said.

Sometimes medics even scrawl notes on the injured soldier's arms and forehead. A capital "M" on a soldier's forehead means morphine has already been administered.

"It is all about speed and accuracy, especially in the military environment," Girson said. "Information is valuable."

InHand is known for designing software that increases the battery life in handheld and wireless systems.

InHand was one of 24 companies that applied to make the dog tag. It was selected to work on the project competing against three other firms in the first phase of development. The company received $100,000 from the Department of Defense's Small Business Innovation Research Program.

In June, the Defense Department will decide if any of the companies will design a working prototype, Rapp said.

A high-tech dog tag is already being tested on 10,000 troops in Iraq, but it is not wireless and some of the tags are failing because of corrosion, Rapp said.

If InHand is selected, it could mean a contract of more than $700,000 with the Defense Department, Girson said.

He believes there is a large market for an electronic dog tag and estimates that a million units could be sold for military and commercial use.

The challenge is to make a working prototype that eventually could be sold cheaply to the general public. That could take two to three years, Girson said.

"It has got great potential for us going forward," Girson said. "To the extent we are successful on this, there will be a lot of people wearing these things. Let's be honest, it is pretty cool."

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