KEY POINTS

  • The U.S. Army will develop wearable coronavirus detectors
  • Defense firms to submit proposals to design prototypes 
  • A fund of $25 million is allocated for the project

The U.S. Army is planning to use wearable COVID-19 monitors able to detect whether its personnel are displaying symptoms. For this purpose, U.S. Army medical officials are asking the defense industry to develop prototypes of such wearable coronavirus monitors.

Confronted with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Army has temporarily stopped large-scale training exercises and enforced a large number of restrictions. While the Pentagon has implemented a wide range of policies and restrictions designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, the pandemic has still infected as much as 5,316 service members, according to a May 11 slide briefing of the Defense Department (DoD).

The military services designed a plan to strategically test for COVID-19 asymptomatic service members. DoD has a testing capacity of about 30,000 a week, but by June it’s planning to be able to test as much as 60,000 a week, according to Military Times.

Starting with basic trainees, there are four testing tiers. The tier two covers a larger population, including units preparing to deploy and forces already deployed abroad. Tier three includes troops deployed to Korea, Japan, Italy, and Germany, as well as deployed troops preparing to head home. Tier four is made up of other troops stationed in the U.S.

According to Military.com, as part of the COVID-19 testing plan, the U.S. Army also plans to create a wearable diagnostic capability. The Army Medical Research and Development Command invited defense firms to submit proposals for prototypes of a device for "pre-/very early symptomatic detection of COVID-19 infection". The wearable diagnostics should be accurate and rapid in order to prevent the spread of the virus by finding and isolating pre-symptomatic cases.

The request was issued through the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium (MTEC). A fund of $25 million has been allocated for the project. The firms interested to participate in this project can submit white papers until May 13. It is expected that the project will select up to 10 qualified companies over a nine-month period.

The documentation should describe their plan to create a working prototype and demonstrate its capacity to detect early signs of infection from "asymptomatic or symptomatic patients" by performing conclusive testing. The results of testing should be easily saved, interpreted, and shared by non-laboratory military personnel.

The service members should be able to wear the designed prototypes for continuous physiological monitoring without any inconvenience or interfering in daily activities. A plan for the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization status should also be provided by companies participating in this project.

An image taken with a scanning electron microscope shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow) — also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19 An image taken with a scanning electron microscope shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow) — also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19 Photo: National Institutes of Health / Handout