Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been a major hazard for Coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan for over the past decade. The toll that they’ve taken in lives and equipment has been terrible, but the U.S. Army hopes to alleviate some of this with new vehicle and body blast sensors shipping to Afghanistan in August 2012. These sensors, built jointly with Georgia Tech Research Institute and the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force are part of wireless information network designed to aid doctors and engineers by collecting blast and pressure data from the vehicles and soldiers themselves.

IEDs are a major problem for the military because even though they are very widely used and a lot is known about the sort of damage they can do, there’s not much consistent data on how blasts affect a particular individual in a particular situation. Part of the reason for this is that the only time and place to get that data is when an IED actually goes off in the field.

That’s the idea behind the new sensors being deployed in Afghanistan. They’re part of the Integrated Blast Effect Sensor Suite (I-BESS). This is a system of smart, wireless sensors installed in a combat vehicle’s body along with four worn on each soldier’s torso (two front, two back) called the Soldier Body Unit and one in the helmet called HEADs II. These sensors detect pressure and acceleration, but they’re not simply measuring instruments. Each of these are “smart” devices that talk to one another and respond depending on the situation.

For example, if a group of soldiers is traveling in a vehicle and it runs over a bomb, the sensors in the vehicle will record the blast data and store it in a black box recorder for later download and analysis. So far so good, but the vehicle is also aware of the sensors the soldiers are carrying and downloads their data through their seats. If the soldiers leave the vehicle, their sensor packs “wake up” and will record data in the event of a blast. When the soldiers return to the vehicle, the data is downloaded when they sit down and the sensors go back to sleep.

The goal of the I-BESS system is not just that it can collect data, but that it doesn’t interfere with combat operations, is easy for soldiers to understand, can be easily installed in all existing vehicles and is upgradable. In addition, the system components have to be robust and rely on government-owned, standard software and interfaces.

One thousand Soldier Body Units are scheduled to be deployed along with sensors for forty two combat vehicles. The Army hopes that the data collected will lead to more effective countermeasures and medical treatment. This data may be of importance even outside of the combat zone because vehicle accidents, such as rollovers, involve similar force.

The following video provides an overview of the Integrated Blast Effect Sensor Suite (I-BESS).